Nikki Carr: Showjumper Turned Eco-Cowboy

Photo courtesy of Nikki Carr

When showjumper Nikki Carr first moved to Kanawha, Texas, the 22-year-old had a lifelong career on the competition circuit and almost no experience of cattle ranching. After living and training between Kentucky and Palm Beach since childhood, the Grand Prix competitor has translated her equestrian prowess into becoming a rancher and owner of Hippie Cow Beef. The online company sells pasture-raised beef directly from its lush ranchlands to customers nationwide, championing humane and sustainable methods.

Photo courtesy of Nikki Carr

The Miami native gained a silver medal at the Southeast Medal Finals 2013; a bronze in USEF Talent Search; and a clutch of wins and placings across High Junior and Amateur categories. “I’d spent my whole life in barns and traveling around showing. I don’t think I’d ever been within feet of a cow before,” Carr says of her sudden cross-over from the jumper circuit.

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The inspiration came after she visited her partner, an established horse trainer, in Australia and was struck by the differences between the Aussie and American ranching methods. “Almost all the beef sold in America is raised in a feedlot,” she says. “I noticed the cows there lived freely on pastures. Australia is one of the biggest beef producers in the world, so I felt there was a serious lapse in ways things are done here.”

Photo courtesy of Nikki Carr

In an effort to create the most natural and low-impact environment possible, Carr and her team work cattle exclusively on horseback. This means moving cattle from pasture to pasture every couple of days, isolating sick animals, and checking the ranchlands which span the banks of the Red River. Hippie Cow’s intense dedication to sustainability ensures no shortcuts are taken to producing humane and high-quality beef. As a young woman entering the ranching world, she had to work hard to establish herself as something more than a curiosity.

Photo courtesy of Nikki Carr

The notoriously macho cowboy culture doesn’t allow for weakness, so Carr was forced to draw on all her skills in the saddle to ensure she wasn’t written off as a rookie. “Other ranchers wouldn’t trust me to open a gate during the first six months of setting up the business,” she says. “I always think of that quote: ‘Work hard in silence and let success speak for itself.’ That’s very much my mentality now.” These days, she calmly circles several hundred-head of cattle with a practiced eye, looking for any sign of sickness or distress. Only an affinity for a showier type of cow horse sets her apart from the lifelong cowboys and their quiet rides. A year into the founding of the ranch, the cowboys give her their silent respect.

Photo courtesy of Nikki Carr

Working the ranch using traditional methods and running her business using modern ones is a more than a full-time job for Carr. She and her husband prefer to break their own horses, of which they own around 30, and their days regularly involve intense training and exercising. Carr finds this lifestyle to fosters the same intense sense of connection with her horses as training and competition did. Still, “I miss jumping every day,” she admits.

Photo courtesy of Nikki Carr