Fifth generation Oklahoma rancher Terry Forst is the General Manager of Stuart Ranch. Founded in 1868, the ranch spans across four counties in Southwestern and Southeastern Oklahoma and is the oldest ranch in the state under continuous family ownership. “I stand on a lot of broad shoulders. I am the fifth generation, my boys are the sixth, and my grandchildren are the seventh generation. We all live and work here on the ranch,” she says. “We are a commercial cow-calf operation and have a large Quarter Horse herd. We breed mares here and market colts through private treaty and online sales. We also have a large outfitting division, as well as a meat company that is part of our program.”
Her dedication to preserving the Western way of life and passing on her vast knowledge has earned her the title of 2024 Art of the Cowgirl Ranching Master. The Art of the Cowgirl Fellowship Program is designed to spotlight the wonderful women who have played a significant role in the Western way of life while sharing the stories of their families, marriages, and partnerships that in turn shaped them. Each year, they highlight female makers, master artists, silversmiths, braiders, saddlemakers, and horsewomen, as well as provide fellowships to individuals to further their knowledge with master artists in the trade of choice.
The Ranching Fellowship, supported by Schaefer Outfitter, will entail one lucky recipient to be taken under Terry’s wing for three weeks, learning the ins and outs of the Stuart Ranch operation. “The more I visited with Tammy Pate, the more I realized I could take somebody for three of our really busy weeks and at least expose them to the way we do things. Not that it’s the only way, but it’s an opportunity to see a way that we have evolved mostly through trial and error.”
Between breeding mares, branding, and the variety of other jobs around the ranch, the fellowship recipient will be keeping very busy. “I can probably find a lot of things for her to be exposed to. We sort mares every day, and I breed about 55 head. She can breed mares with me in the morning and then the guys will pen cattle, or she can go with them the days that we brand because it’s all on top of each other,” Terry explains. “We can go to our other outfit, where we run a large herd of Corriente cows. It’s a whole different scenario over there. We’re also riding two-year-olds at that point, so if that happens to be something that she wants to at least observe and see how we do that, it’s there too. Range management is another of my passions. I can take her out, and we can prowl pastures, look at grasses, and learn why one pasture may be better. Some things like that because it’s not just about the cows.”
What makes their horse program so special is how involved they are in each step of the process – from breeding to selling, they know their animals inside and out. “Our mare band is a generational mare band, started back in the fifties. The mares we show today are 6, 7, and 8 generations, so it’s a generational legacy as well. I showed in the reined cow horse before I had the honor of being Reserve Non-Pro Champion in the Snaffle Bit.”
Her son, Robert, is very involved in their training program, and the family takes immense pride in the versatility of their horses – from the show pen to the pasture. They also ride all their broodmares on the ranch. “We use all of our mares that go back in the broodmare band, so we’ve got a pretty solid foundation on all these as to what might fit you the best because we’ve ridden all of them.”
No matter the obstacle, Terry tackles any challenge with eternal optimism and deep-rooted faith. “I love what I do. I’ve never wanted to do anything else. It’s just all the pieces, all the challenges. We’re the most optimistic people on this earth because there’s always next year, the next foal crop, the next calf crop. Our family has a tremendous amount of faith. It’s the most important thing that has carried us through so many challenges. I feel that we are stewards of God’s resources, so maybe that’s the best part of all of it.”
One of Terry’s main missions is to continue to make their operation sustainable for the next generation, while instilling a strong work ethic. “That is so critical. You’re not gonna be given anything, you have to work for it, and you have to prove yourself. You have to earn the respect of others. It doesn’t come easy, so you have to build your character. You can still do a good job, but also surround yourself with people who complement you and are better than you at certain things. Then as a team, you can do really great things.”
She continues, “Just making sure that I can expose her to as much as possible and give room for questions and discussion and spend some time together. I feel like we have a duty to prepare the next generation because we won’t have the quality of ranch managers if we don’t. In my time, there weren’t very many of us at all.”
LEFT: First generation Robert Clay Freeny on the Stuart Ranch. RIGHT: Spanning early generations, Homer Moran, Bob Stuart, and Col. Stuart.
Terry feels her experiences as a woman in the ranching industry will be beneficial to someone coming up who wants to expand their knowledge. “When I came through school and life, it wasn’t okay to be “as good as,” you had to be “better than.” I think that part of our legacy in agriculture is so critical. You can still be a woman and aim for excellence. So, get to be the best. It’s that simple. Excellence is something we should all strive for. I do believe that we have a duty in our lives to prepare the next generations. Whether it be family, friends, or somebody from the fellowship program.”
Art of The Cowgirl Fellowship Program
The Art of the Cowgirl event is a gathering to celebrate cowgirls and their contributions to the Western lifestyle and culture through workshops, horsemanship clinics, an all-women’s ranch rodeo, music, art auction, an all-women’s horse sale, and World’s Greatest Horsewoman competition..
Art of the Cowgirl’s Fellowship Program encourages and furthers Western art and trade among women artisans, both continuing tradition and inspiring innovation. By establishing mentorship and investing in up-and-coming artists, Art of the Cowgirl fosters creativity and preserves traditional art and functional gear. In providing these experiences, their hope is that age, location or lack of funds will no longer be a limiting factor for those interested in pursuing art and artistic trades. Whether it’s fine art, functional trade, or horsemanship, Art of the Cowgirl Fellowships seek to enrich, empower, and educate — all while honoring Western heritage. Art of the Cowgirl will fully fund up to seven fellowships each year, with all expenses paid for the Master Artist and Fellowship Recipient.
Master Artists share their time and knowledge teaching at their various locations, and Fellowship Recipients commit to investing their time in the experience. Fellowship Recipients also receive funding to travel to the annual Art of the Cowgirl event, where they will present their work and donate an item to the Fellowship Auction, which supports the next class of aspiring artists. Applying for the program is a competitive process, and it’s grown in popularity each year.
Applications for the 2024 fellowships open in January 2024. Visit artofthecowgirl.com.