Baru Forell couldn’t believe her eyes. A friend, Matt Humphreys, had engraved a stunning pair of spurs.
“In 2005, I saw a pair of spurs he made, and they were finished very nicely but they weren’t mounted,” Forell recalls of the spurs, which lacked silver detail. “After just two classes with Johny Weyerts, his engraving was just unbelievable. I thought, ‘If I am going to do silver work, I need to get to engraving school!’”
She signed up for engraving classes with Weyerts that same year. Fifteen years and several workshops later, Forell has made a reputable name for herself as a western silversmith and, more recently, started making bits.
“I may starve to death making California-style bits in Texas, but I still want to do it,” says the Wingate, Texas-based silvermaker. “I like doing silver work, but I love being able to make bits, because it combines my love of horses and my craftsmanship.”
From Texas and Wyoming to Arizona and Nevada, her silverwork has been featured at some of the most prestigious museums and shows, including the Museum of the Big Bend in Alpine, Texas; the Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nev.; the Western Trappings on the Llano exhibit and sale in Llano, Texas; the Home on the Ranch Art & Gear Show in Wickenburg, Ariz.; the Fusion Silver Show at the Brannaman ProAm Vaquero Roping in Santa Ynez, Calif.; and the Sheridan Silver Show in Sheridan, Wyo.
Her talents extend beyond the metal canvas. Forell is a decorated rider in the Stock Horse of Texas (SHTX) association, American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) ranch classes, and the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA), and she’s also an accomplished breeder.
Forell has an eye for talent and a taste for beauty, which shows in her silverwork and her horses.
Born in western Kansas, Forell is the second oldest of six children. Her family raised racing Quarter Horses capable of running, ranching and rodeoing, which she fondly refers to as “do-everything horses.”
By the time Forell was 12 years old, she and her older sister were entering amateur barrel races and competing against adult women. The sisters would accompany their father to rodeos across Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and Oklahoma. He rode bareback horses and saddle broncs and later focused on bulldogging.
“We also went to horse shows—the Kansas Western Horseman’s Association had open horse shows all over the state through affiliate saddle clubs,” Forell says. “We did all the classes: barrel racing, pole bending, western pleasure, reining. We were pretty all-around!
“My dad always said, ‘A pretty one can run just as fast as an ugly one,’” she adds. “He always liked to have a good-looking horse, and I got that from him. There’s nothing wrong with having one that’s big-headed and can go get a job done, but I would like a pretty one.”
After five years in the Army serving as an intelligence analyst and linguist during the Gulf War and Bosnian War, Forell jumped back into the horse industry running barrels and developing her own breeding program. She was keen on Joe Hancock-bred horses, specifically those by his grandson, Blue Valentine.
“I was drawn to them for their stoutness, their build, and good feet,” she says. “I like a big, stout horse you can go all day on.”
In 2005, good friends Randy and Susan Brookings leased a son of Leo Hancock Hayes—the last breeding son of Blue Valentine—to Forell.
“I had Funny B Blue Muchaman for three foal crops. That’s how I got into the Blue Valentine business,” she says.
The golden cross for 80 years was crossing Hancocks on Driftwoods. In her search for nice Driftwood-bred mares, she went to the Four Sixes Ranch, which stood Ikes Double Drift and Drifts Chip. Forell eventually had mares from both studs.
One in particular was a 2005 weanling named Western Sequel, aka “Cowgirl” (Ikes Double Drift x Western Lena). Forell began showing her in SHTX in 2008, starting in the novice division, then limited, non pro, and eventually the open division.
“My journey with Cowgirl was life-changing,” says Forell. “Together, we went places and accomplished goals I had never dreamed possible.”
Forell and Cowgirl earned a Superior Stock Horse Versatility Award in SHTX, her AQHA Register of Merit, was a top-five all around at multiple AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse World Championships, and the inaugural AQHA Ranching Heritage Challenge Finals Non Pro Champion.
“In 2014, Cowgirl broke a small bone in her foot, so I had to give her a year off,” says Forell. “But a 2009 Blue Valentine colt was coming on, and I wanted to show a horse I had bred, raised and trained myself. He was not your typical cow horse; he was nice-headed, but at 5 years old, he was 16 hands and weighed 1,400 pounds.”
What Blue Texian packed in size, he mirrored in talent. Forell showed “Texi” to success in hackamore and two-rein classes in the Panhandle Reined Cow Horse Association, an affiliate of NRCHA.
Despite their success, Forell says close friends expressed sincere doubts in the horse.
“They wanted me to be successful and didn’t think I could be on him,” she says. “Not that I had great abilities; Texi was only the second cow horse I’d ever trained. But I thought ‘Well, I have two [show] horses and one’s [unsound] right now.’ I had a choice to show or not show.”
The choice paid off, and she went on to qualify for the NRCHA world show, earn an NRCHA Certificate of Ability, win the NRCHA non-pro two-rein regional champion title, and be a top-10 finalist at the NRCHA Challenge of Champions in the non-pro two-rein.
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Today, Forell continues to create beautiful sterling silver cuffs, conchos, scarf slides, earrings, and other pieces, in addition to engraving shanks, specifically on California-style bits.
“In the summer, I ride early in the morning before I go to work as a bookkeeper,” she says. “Then in the evenings, I work in my shop. If I’m not working in town, I’m in the shop or riding my next hopeful show prospect.”
Forell’s tenacity and focus on quality results in timeless products.
“I look at my horses the same way I look at my silverwork,” she says. “For both, my goal is ‘ranchy but fancy.’”
For more information on Forell, visit www.forellranch.com.
This article about Baru Forell appeared in the 2021 special edition of Western Life. Click to subscribe for more!