They are the American Beauties of the West and like the roses that emblazon many of their gorgeous vintage outfits — created by Hollywood glitterati’s most celebrated designers and lovingly curated as part of their mission as ‘ambassadors of the Western heritage and equestrian way of life’ — wherever the ladies of the Cowgirls Historical Foundation go, goodness and service blooms with them.
The Cowgirls Historical Foundation (CHF) is an equestrian group of roughly two-dozen women of accomplishment, ranging in age from 16 to 40-something, united in a commitment to celebrate, with honor and excellence, the Western heritage they cherish through community service and equestrian performances.
Based in Arizona, CHF Cowgirls are more than a drill team of pretty faces. They excel in horsemanship, modeling, physical fitness and public speaking, and volunteer in their communities with the knowledge, as CHF president Kiva James Lindaman says, “That people who serve others end up serving themselves with a more content and happier heart. The women in our group are go-getters. They are caring and kind, poised, articulate, and generous. I can’t say enough wonderful things about my friends and fellow CHF members.”
CHF Cowgirls have made eight appearances in the Rose Bowl Parade, as well as the Catwalk for Charity, Kicking Up Kindness Buckaroo Ball, National Day of the Cowboy, Special Olympics, Phoenix Fire Department, Phoenix Suns Charities, and for the benefit of numerous literacy and educational programs.
Kiva, 34, began riding at age four and dreamed of growing up to be a cowgirl. By age 11, she had qualified through 4-H for the Arizona State Fair and fell in love “with the glitz and glamour” of showing horses, leading to her first AQHA partner, a gelding called Zippo Goes Lightly. Kiva and ‘Lee’ competed across the 4-H spectrum, from horse science and showmanship to reining, trail and western pleasure, and qualified for six consecutive seasons for the Arizona State Fair, where they never finished out of the Top 10 and brought home a slew of state championships.
That 4-H credo to, “Pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living for my club, my community, my country and my world,” no doubt laid the cornerstone for the future CHF. Kiva’s horizons broadened to include rodeo queen pageants and in 2001 she was named Flagstaff Pine Country Pro Rodeo Queen. At Northern Arizona University she roped, team penned, served on the rodeo association board and worked cattle on a Navajo Nation ranch.
“Being a cowgirl is a pure way of life,” says Kiva, who expects her first daughter with her husband, a reined cowhorse trainer, in October. “We have strong values. We love our families, we love our animals, and we love this land.”
Wrangling hopeful cowgirls and fielding event inquiries is the role of CHF Cowgirl, Julee Brady, a 1994-95 Mrs. Arizona and self-described “domestic engineer” of her own ‘Brady Bunch’ of family and furry friends. Julee offers expertise as an actor and modeling coach and says, “Working with CHF and its horses celebrates the talents and camaraderie of our Western past and brings us to an increased knowledge for the present.”
Uniting the Western past and present is most brilliantly apparent in the CHF Cowgirls’ suits, which represent a Who’s Who of “Hollywood glitterati” designers like Nudie Cohn, Manuel (Cuevas), Rodeo Ben, Nathan Turk and Fay Ward.
“As our organization has grown,” says Kiva, “we have become the modern face of vintage western wear. Collectors let us know about unique pieces they’ve found or if we would be interested in acquiring pieces, or to ask questions about their own finds. It creates a dialogue that has kept vintage Western wear alive. We have some really old Rodeo Ben shirts and Fay Ward pieces, and more contemporary pieces by Manuel. They range from the 1940s to the 1960s and ‘70s, which includes one of my favorites – a Nathan Turk silver-and-black brocade jacket I call ‘The Disco Suit.’ It’s a great evening suit and must be worn with red lipstick! Each has its own story. Some were made for country music stars to wear on award show red carpets, others for concerts or stars to wear on the silver screen. For instance, we have an outfit made for Dale Evans!”
And if the CHF closet were a crown, its central gem would be the size 2 gold lame’ and chocolate leather rhinestone-studded pantsuit by Nudie Cohn, with matching Cohn/Bolin 16” seat gold Western saddle, breastplate and bridle. “It’s a very special outfit used on rare occasions,” says Julee. “The gold saddle was flown to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame Museum induction to accompany Miss Rodeo USA 2000, Marjon Brady.” (If that last name sounds familiar it’s one of Julee’s daughters.)
One of only two such sets in the world, its provenance is equally exceptional. “A Western collections curator met Marjon at a couple of events and was impressed with her presence, demeanor, and quality of character,” she says with maternal pride. “He recognized she was similar in size to Judy Lynn (for whom the stage suit was custom made). He was right. It fits like it was made for her.” After literally nothing more than a handshake between collector and rodeo queen, the suit and saddle unexpectedly appeared by post several weeks later at the Brady doorstep.
Judy Lynn (nee Voiten), born 1936 in Boise, Idaho, was a Grand Olde Opry performer known as “the most flamboyantly costumed country star of her generation” and America’s Number One Most Promising Country/Western Girl Singer (“My Tears Are On The Roses”) of 1964. She was a staple on the 1960s Las Vegas strip before following a higher calling as Reverend Judy Lynn Kelly.
Not that Marjon is the only Brady who enjoys wearing history. Julee has her favorites too: “I feel fortunate to fit several outfits. They all have their own flair and I love the stories and craftsmanship behind their creation. I can still fit vintage pieces made by Nathan Turk for my mother-in-law, who was a Reno Rodeo Queen. Like her, I’m 5’9″ and the same size.”
In addition to generous collectors who help the Cowgirls keep vintage Western style alive, they have ‘in-house’ talent, too. “One of our own Cowgirls and her husband, Jody and JW Brooks, are founders of JW Brooks Custom Hat Company,” says Kiva. “They have designed some of the coolest hats to match the outfits. Some hats are vintage, others are by American, Bailey, Resistol and Stetson.”
“What’s great about vintage wear is that it has as much relevance today as when it was made. Great pieces are timeless and can be modernized with skinny jeans, a blingy belt and boots, or you can go classic Western chic with a vintage top, concho belt, turquoise and silver jewelry. Vintage never goes out of fashion!”
Look for the CHF drill team to perform at the PRCA-sanctioned World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo, August 18-19 in Payson, Arizona; at the PRCA Turquoise Circuit Finals in October and November’s Gilbert Days Rodeo. They regularly participate in Debby Gaby charity events including the biennial Celebrity Catwalk, Florence Crittenton’s Teaming Up for Girls Luncheon, and Veterans Medical Leadership Council Annual Heroes Patriotic Luncheon.
“We are working with Scottsdale’s Museum of the West: Western Spirit on educational programs and hosted a Working Ranch Wear: Tools of the Trade, and Rhinestones, Rodeo and Retro Style fashion show. On average,” Kiva estimates, “we serve two or three charity or fund-raising events monthly throughout Arizona.”
For the CHF Cowgirls, the best accessory to looking good is by doing good for other. Learn more at www.cowgirlshistoricalfoundation.com.
Much More Than Just a Pretty Face
CHF Cowgirls are indeed women of accomplishment, who hold public appointed offices (Jennifer Brown Maricopa, representative for CAWCD board of directors on water rights); serve on boards of volunteer organizations (Nicole Bonilla, Welcome Home Ranch and John Volken Academy); own their own businesses (Jody Brooks, JW Brooks Custom Hats; Nicole Bonilla, Bonilla Design & Advertising); are top professionals in their field (Kelly Bennett, KLX Aerospace Solutions and mounted shooter; Karin Valentine, ASU Marketing and Media Manager at the School of Earth and Space Exploration); plus 4-H leaders, mothers, nurses, Realtors; current and past rodeo and pageant queens including three Miss Rodeo Arizona titlists (Taryn Brady Hale, Taci Shaffer, Sammi Miles Michaud), Mrs. Arizona (Julee Brady); Miss Rodeo USA (Marjon Brady Brown); the youngest-ever World Champion mounted shooter (Melissa Dragoo Glissmeyer); and documentary film star, clinician, and Extreme Mustang Makeover World Champion, Wylene Wilson Davis.