Mesa Pate, 21, learned to ride before she learned to walk. “I’ve probably spent more miles horseback than afoot,” she says.

Born into a Montana ranching family of professional horse trainers, Pate grew up horse-crazy, like many rural girls, and attended Professional Bull Riders (PBR) events with her family. But her interest in bulls set her apart early.

“I always had affection for bulls, whether it was bucking bulls or polled Hereford show bulls,” she recalls. “I’d make my dad pull off the highway so I could look at a bull out in a pasture.”

Pate got a taste for the bucking bull industry during her high school rodeo days, when she volunteered for a livestock contractor. Forgoing rodeoing during her junior and senior years to save money, she researched the business, saved up the funds for bulls, and developed a business plan. In 2009, at 18 years old, she started Mesa Bucking Bulls with four bulls and 10 cows that she purchased from stock contractors Bob Tallman and Terry Williams. As it turns out, that first set of bulls included a money-earning futurity calf winner named 702 Cool and Cowboy Casanova, which became a PBR Finals short round bull.

Pate’s real career launcher, however, was Highway 12, who arrived with the Tallman and Williams herd nursing a bad hip. After a year layoff, a revived Highway 12 (nicknamed Albert) made his debut as a PBR bull and bucked off his rider in 1.9 seconds. Highway 12 has been racking up accolades ever since—he’s been a PBR Bucking Bull of the Year contender, PBR Finals bucking bull, and PBR short round bull.

“I want to be known as someone who does a good job and has good livestock,” Pate says of being a young woman in a male-dominated industry, “not just that I’m a girl.”

And to any young people interested in the industry, she has this advice: “Work! You can never put out too much effort or work too hard. And do it for the right reasons.”

Dillon Page of D&H Cattle Company of Ardmore, Okla., who has raised bucking bulls for more than 30 years, says, “Mesa loves the sport. She pays attention and has a strong work ethic. She’s got a future in the sport and there’s a lot of good opportunities for her, if that’s what she wants to do.”

Like the Garth Brooks song says, “That girl is a cowboy.”

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