Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival

I spent last week with friends in Elko, Nevada attending the Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival. This gathering started thirty-four years ago as a place where ranchers and cowboys could assemble to share poems and stories about their lives working cattle and running their ranches. In the last three decades, these men and women have continued to foster their relationships as well as their crafts of poetry, music, artisanship, and storytelling. Regardless of the vehicle they use to convey their message, their stories are about heartbreak, hard work, humor, and their appreciation of the American West.

Mike Beck

Among the many performances, lectures, and activities that I attended, one performer stood out. His name is Mike Beck. Mike grew up learning how to cowboy and handle horses from some of the best in the business. Bill and Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt, and Buck Brannaman to name a few. At the end of long days of working with cattle, instead of braiding rawhide like the other cowboys, Mike would pick up his guitar and play. He continued to hone his horsemanship skills and started offering his own clinics sharing what he had learned from the Dorrance brothers. The word about Beck’s clinics began to spread, and he was asked to go to Europe to conduct his clinics. For many years he has done 2-day clinics mostly in Scandinavia. He doesn’t consider himself to be the best clinician or horseman, but he continues to do a few workshops each year for himself and the horse. Beck wants to help people understand how to communicate with their horse. He wants them to know when and how things come together with their animal and when they fall apart. He believes that it is the riders responsibility to get along with the horse. 

The Fidgety Horse

These days, Beck mostly travels the country as a musician. Wandering around the United States is how he found himself in Elko, Nevada. I observed him to be an engaging and inspiring storyteller. He has a soft and raspy voice that is gentle and melodic. One of the stories he told at the performance I attended was about a fidgety horse. Beck explains that he was leaning against the fence rails talking to a cowboy who had his saddled horse next to him. As they were speaking the horse would get antsy and squirm around a bit, and the cowboy would yank on the reigns to bring him back to his side. The wriggling and tugging happened a few more times when the cowboy’s wife came up to them and told her husband that someone needed to speak to him. The husband handed the horse off to his wife who immediately got on the animal and began chatting with Mike. The horse was still antsy, so when the wriggling started, the woman would pull the reigns to the left allowing the horse to circle and stand. The next time she pulled the reigns to the right acknowledging the horse’s energy once again letting him rotate and hold a standing position. After this happened a few times, the horse calmed down and stood quietly while Mike and the woman talked. So what is the significance of this story? Well, as Beck explained, she gave the horse somewhere to put his energy. She provided an outlet for his restlessness, and once he was able to release his edginess, he peacefully settled down.

Life Lesson

The story of the anxious horse is a beautiful life lesson. What a fantastic metaphor for we humans. There are going to be times when the ones we love, or we have pent-up energy or emotions as we traverse through life. What this story teaches us is to give others and ourselves the permission to channel that uneasiness in a way that will serve us. These avenues of relief are essential and useful. The next time you find yourself in a situation of disquiet, I hope that you will remember this story and allow yourself or others to let go of what is unsettling.

I invite you to go to Mike Beck’s website to learn more about him.

Stay true and be you —


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