She’s fancy. She’s ranchy. She’s changing the game for cowgirls around the world. Her name is Courtenay DeHoff, and she is the original Fancy Lady Cowgirl.
A Ranch-Bred Start
“I had the quintessential ag upbringing—riding horses, showing cattle,” DeHoff recalls. “My parents always made sure we had good horses under us and great cattle in the show ring.”
Growing up in Kansas, DeHoff experienced every aspect of ranch life. To this day, her parents maintain a small herd of cattle, in addition to jobs outside the home, while her grandparents rely solely on their cow-calf operation for income.
“I always tell people, I’m just a cowgirl from Kansas,” DeHoff says. “Agriculture and that way of life are built into my family. It took me getting completely away from that to really appreciate it.”
After high school, DeHoff headed for the big city to attend Oklahoma State University. She chose the school with the goal of joining the rodeo team. Since college rodeoing required her to select a college major, too, she chose agricultural communications, with plans to go pro as a rodeo athlete rather than put the degree to work after graduating.
However, her chosen major would lead DeHoff onto a path beyond her wildest dreams. And it all started with a simple internship requirement.
“In an intro class one day, we took a field trip to a TV station,” she recalls. “We walked into this studio, and something in me was like, this is cool.”
So, she emailed the station and asked if they’d allow her to intern there her freshman year. They said yes, and before she knew it, a six-week internship turned into a career.
“That internship changed the course of my life,” DeHoff shares. “I did all the jobs [at the TV station], and that knowledge really propelled me forward in my career. I learned how to be a great storyteller.”
Once she’d graduated, DeHoff put her storytelling skills to use working for television stations across the country, relying on her agricultural roots to help her persevere.
“When I look at my career and the way I was raised, if there was something I wanted to do, I did it, whether I had permission or not,” DeHoff admits. “If I wanted to rodeo, I rodeoed. If I wanted to be a TV host, I did it. There’s not a lot of Kansas ranchers working at the network level in television. But I did it because I wanted to.”
Alone at the Table
She had the degree. She had the start to a successful career. She had the gumption to keep going. But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. The world of entertainment is cutthroat, especially for a girl in cowboy boots.
“I had to sit at the table alone for a long time as I was coming up in my TV career because nobody understood that side of me,” DeHoff recalls. “I was always a little different. I was always a little bit too outspoken. One of the things that I really yearned for was a female to come along and say, ‘Hey, you belong. I’ve got your back.’”
As she moved from one television job to the next, living everywhere from Nashville, Tennessee, to New York City, that person never appeared in DeHoff’s circle. She found herself caught between her roots and her career. So, she learned to lead two lives—one at work and one on the weekends.
“You couldn’t catch me in a pair of cowboy boots in public for nearly a decade,” Dehoff reveals. “I was still very much involved in agriculture, behind the scenes. But the people I worked with and the people watching me on social media or on the news had no idea where I’d come from.”
Despite her career success, which led her to host a syndicated morning show, something was missing. DeHoff felt it in her core, and she was ready to make a change.
The Pivotal Moment
“The turning point for me was in Dallas,” DeHoff recalls. “I pitched a story about wildfires that were affecting Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado—states where I knew people it was affecting. I told the producer that it looked like the fire would affect grocery store prices. Everybody eats, so people watching us from New York or San Francisco should care. Not only did they shoot it down, but they also made fun of it. They said, ‘Don’t forget, this is a real news network. Stop bringing us your little cowgirl problems.’”
Despite the rejection, DeHoff knew the story needed to be told. Agriculture deserved the same representation that was readily given to other industries, and DeHoff knew she had to act.
“That was the moment that I internally snapped,” she says. “I told the story anyway, on my Facebook page, just to do my part to help the community that had raised me.”
When she woke up the next morning, her Facebook video had been shared over a million times across social media.
“That was a wakeup call,” DeHoff recalls. “I started telling more and more stories like that on social media. My following grew, and people started reaching out asking me to speak. I felt like I had finally found my calling.”
After years of being ashamed of her roots, standing proud in cowboy boots felt amazing. Being a voice for the community she loved gave DeHoff the fulfillment she’d missing throughout her career. Now, she was telling the stories she was born to tell.
Fancy Lady Cowgirl Rises
Just when DeHoff found her stride, balancing her television job while sharing her community’s stories on social media, another bomb dropped.
“What the agriculture community didn’t know is that I was living in New York City while I was editing these agriculture and rural stories,” DeHoff says. “They didn’t realize I was working for the same mainstream media giants that I was calling out in these videos [on social media].”
She’d kept her pursuits separated, playing the roles of big-city entertainer and agriculture advocate before two very different audiences.
“It was a photo of me headed to New York fashion week that sort of flipped it all on its head,” DeHoff recalls. “I started getting messages and comments that said things like, ‘oh, you’re not actually a cowgirl.’ and ‘You’re not really a part of rural America. You don’t even live there.’ It broke my heart.”
With one post, people who had praised DeHoff for standing up for agriculture shunned her for not looking the part of a stereotypical cowgirl. Her community felt she was an outsider, and DeHoff felt the sting of rejection first hand.
“The agriculture community didn’t like how I dressed,” she recalls. “I was born, bred, and raised in this industry. The minute I started wearing clothes that weren’t considered traditional or appropriate for the barn, they did the same thing to me that is done to so many others.”
But a cowgirl doesn’t back down when the going gets tough. Instead, DeHoff’s pain led to inspiration—and the birth of a movement.
“I remember sitting on my couch, staring out the window of this high-rise apartment, and I thought, ‘I want to be a fancy lady who works in the city, goes to fancy parties, and hangs out at New York fashion week, but also a cowgirl. I want to be both,” DeHoff says. “That’s really how Fancy Lady Cowgirl was born.”
She used #FancyLadyCowgirl on an Instagram post, and it took off like wildfire. With a simple hashtag, DeHoff granted acceptance to people who didn’t want to choose between fancy and cowgirl. Now, it was okay to be both.
“Sometimes we have to see somebody else doing it—being different, looking different, acting different, having different opinions—to feel like we are allowed to do that, too,” DeHoff shares. “You have to see someone wearing ridiculous couture scooping horse poop to think, ‘If she can wear that to the barn, I can wear what I want to wear to the barn.’”
As her platform grew, so did DeHoff’s wardrobe. She posed in high fashion style while holding a pitchfork in a horse stall. She posted side-by-side images of a professional outfit complete with stilettos next to a ranch-ready fit covered in manure. Soon, others started using the hashtag, too, showing off their own diverse styles.
“At its core, Fancy Lady Cowgirl gives people permission to come into a community when they feel like there’s no other place for them,” DeHoff shares. “Fancy Lady Cowgirl has a place for everyone. It just gives people permission to be exactly who they are. And that’s cowgirl. Cowgirls are tough, they don’t back down, and they own who they are.”
Facing the Music
Now, #FancyLadyCowgirl has grown beyond DeHoff’s wildest dreams. As for her career, DeHoff spends her days doing what she loves—and that involves wearing cowboy boots and high heels. She uses her story to help others find their place and authentically embrace their own style.
“We’ve all been made to look like imposters in this industry at some point,” she reveals. “It might be because of how we dress, how we look, the things we talk about, the music we listen to, or the way we ranch.”
DeHoff has made it the mission of Fancy Lady Cowgirl to empower both men and women to embrace their own definition of cowboy or cowgirl, whether they share her ranch upbringing or have never been out of the city.
“People are going to tell you, ‘You don’t belong. You look stupid. You have no business being in this industry. You didn’t earn the right to be a part of this community,’” she continues. “I think there is nothing braver than stepping into a community like agriculture when you weren’t born and raised in it.”
Harnessing the power of her platform, DeHoff educates others on Western style etiquette, like how to wear a cowboy hat or style an outfit that includes boots. She also encourages others to follow suit and welcome newcomers with open arms.
“When I see people stepping into the agriculture community, I think, ‘yeah, that’s cowgirl right there,’ DeHoff says. “Even if you’ve never even seen a horse in real life, and you don’t own a cowboy hat or cowboy boots, if you want to call yourself a cowgirl, then in my mind, you get to be one. At the end of the day, the world would be a whole lot better with a whole lot more cowgirls.”
She also appreciates people like her parents and grandparents who’ve stayed true to their lifestyle despite hardships. Without them, the original Fancy Lady Cowgirl wouldn’t be where she is today.
“I admire people who step into the agriculture industry, and I admire people who are born into it and stay in it, too,” she asserts. “There are so many good people in this industry who live by the values of integrity, humility, and morality. They’re the greatest people I’ve ever known.”
Today, the girl who once sat alone has built a table with enough seats for every man or woman who’s searching for a place.
“I’m so proud that Fancy Lady Cowgirl has created a community that says, ‘Come sit at our table. We’ve got your back.’”
Learn more about Courtenay DeHoff and Fancy Lady Cowgirl at courtenaydehoff.com.
This article about Fancy Lady Cowgirl appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of Western Life Today. Click here to subscribe!