This is the first in our new series of articles on Living Your Best Life for
By Vanessa Sheets –
If you’d have told Sheila Goode that she’d be riding horses as a rancher in Texas after her kids were grown, she’d have looked at you like you were crazy. “It’s safe to say this was not our plan for retirement,” Goode says.
Nevertheless, Goode, age 70, and her husband own and operate, located right on the Brazos river in Palo Pinto, about an hour west of Fort Worth, Texas. The guest ranch is home to 20 female cows, 17 calves, four horses, a pony, mule, and two donkeys. That’s a big change for a woman used to suburban life in New Jersey, Manhattan, and Chicago.
“My husband worked in the pharmaceutical industry,” says Goode. “I’d never set foot in Texas and never thought I’d own a horse.”
When their oldest daughter enrolled in Baylor University in Waco, Texas, a vision of a new life for the Goodes unfolded. The pharmaceutical company that her husband worked for sold and they looked for what to do next.
“We did a sabbatical with Mercyships, a charitable medical organization,” says Goode. “I jumped in and volunteered in development. We did that for a year.”
By then, Goode’s children were marrying Texans, so she and her husband decided to relocate to Texas to be close to their grandchildren. After scouting property surrounding Dallas, they discovered the ranch in Palo Pinto.
“We bought the property in 2004 and it had nothing on it, except gas wells and pipes,” Goode recalls. “There were no roads or structures or anything, it was just land. It was so overgrown with cedar, cactus, and mesquite, that we couldn’t even see the view we have now of the river.”
But they never intended to become ranchers. The couple added cattle to the property for the agricultural exemption, a tax benefit given to landowners who raise livestock. And Goode decided that if she was going to be in Texas, she was going to learn how to ride a horse.
That was when Goode realized there’s danger at every turn on a ranch.
“This cowboy that I took lessons from sold me an older rodeo horse, which was a wonderful horse, but I didn’t know he didn’t like to be tied up. With a lot of rodeo horses, you just drop the reigns,” Good explains. “I was alone when I went to tie him up because I was going to groom him and saddle him and ride.”
The horse reared back and Goode’s hand got caught in the reigns.
“Three of my fingertips popped off. I knew it was bad but I didn’t really look at it. I had to catch him, put him up, climb two fences, and get back to the house and call my husband,” recalls Goode. “In the emergency room of the small local hospital, the doctor looked at my hand and asked me ‘Did you bring anything with you?’ I said no. They sent me to Dallas to operate on my fingers that night.”
When the cowboy who’d given Goode riding lessons visited her, he saw her hand bandaged across her chest and told her she had to get right back out on that horse.
“I told him I was scared,” says Goode. “And he said, ‘Cowgirl, up and get back on that horse!'”
And she did. “But when I saddled him, I would shake. I would just shake,” Goode recalls.
Doubts crept in about running the ranch. “Something could happen to one of my grandkids and I didn’t know that I would be able to deal with that,” says Goode. “I thought, what are we doing? We should just sell this thing and move to a golf course.”
“But my daughter wrote me a letter and told me that if you let fear control your life, your world just gets smaller and smaller,” Goode recalls. “I said ‘You’re absolutely right.’ Anybody can get hurt at any time, and we will be as careful as we know how to be and trust God for the rest.”
Now Goode rides just about every day. She brings her grandchildren to a place on the ranch she calls the “secret pond,” in the middle of a canyon, where she tells them to be quiet and listen.
“You can hear birds and all kinds of things. I say to them ‘I want you to tell God a secret.’ Then I say that God wants to tell them a secret so see if you can hear what He wants to say to you. It has been amazing what they come up with. My 12-year-old grandson told me he heard God say ‘I’m like your knife. I will protect you from danger.'”
“That’s my heart,” Goode says. “It has all been worth it.”
Vanessa Sheets is a journalist whose health articles have appeared in print and online magazines, and business websites. Visit her website at TheHealthWriter.com.