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Cowgirl Turned Lawyer

To kick off my blog, I thought I'd start by sharing one that I wrote for my dear friend Miranda Cheney from just a few days before I moved to Wyoming a week and a half ago. For those of you who don't know her, she's an amazing photographer and you can find out more about her here: (of course, all the photos posted with this blog are by her!).

I’m currently sitting in my house in Hayden, Idaho with my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Jackie. My clothes (and basically all of my world possessions) are scattered all around me – on the floor, the couch, and basically every other usually visible surface. I was raised in Spokane, Washington, spending my summers on the lake and my winters on the mountain in North Idaho. While I’ll always be an Idaho girl through and through, I’m currently packing up to move to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Oh, and did I mention I only have one more day to pack?

If you know me, it probably isn’t a surprise that I procrastinated packing until the last few days before I’m supposed to move. If you don’t, it probably seems crazy, but I’ve packed and lived out of a suitcase for so many years that at this point I’m pretty sure that I work under pressure. So, for context, I’ll fill you in.

It all started when I was about ten years old and decided that it was my life goal to have my own horse. I was raised “in town” (on the South Hill in Spokane for your Northwesterners), so my parents weren’t easily convinced that this was my life passion despite my numerous pleas. So, we struck a deal. They promised to match me dollar for dollar towards the purchase of my first horse. Twenty years later, Snoopy and I are still the best of friends and I think that my parents would agree that he is one of the greatest things to ever happen to me. He was my babysitter, teacher, confidante, and taught me more about people than any person ever could. I may be “grown up,” but I’ll always be “his kid.”

Fast forward to high school, and I’m writing my college admissions essay. I’ve spent the years at my inner city high school driving out to ride two horses everyday after school, then heading back downtown and changing into my cheerleading outfit for that evening’s game of whatever sport is in season. After that, I’d head home and finish my homework and work on student government projects before heading to bed early to be ready for the next morning’s zero hour class. (Clearly, multitasking and overfilling my plate came naturally from a young age!). I write down multiple starts to my essay, but none of them feel right. Finally, I write down the words, “a cowboy is born, not made.” After that, the rest practically wrote itself.

Fast forward to the next August, and I’m packing for my first big adventure by myself: the University of Notre Dame. I would be lying if I told you I was confident and completely excited to head off to Indiana and for all the experiences to come. While I had wanted to send in the check to hold my spot the very same day I received my admissions letter (my dad still calls it the best Christmas present he’s ever received), I cried to my mom while packing about how scared I was to leave my hometown, my horses, and my family. My mom even promised that she’d help me transfer to Gonzaga if I decided that’s what I wanted.

Three years later, my best friend and I cried together in our room in Badin Hall (the greatest hall of Notre Dame’s campus) because I was leaving the next day for a semester in Scotland. I couldn’t imagine life anywhere but Notre Dame. But six months later, my Scottish friends helped me pack because I had left it to the last minute. I was in complete denial that I’d have to leave the town and university that I loved and learned to call home the very next day. A year later, my Badin sisters and I did the same thing for each other as we prepared to leave the University that we all still call the greatest place to grow up.

College graduation was a very different experience for me than for most people. While the majority of people have plans to move to new cities and start new jobs, I was headed home (with braces) to have double maxillofacial surgery to correct terrible orthodontia that left my jaw joints deteriorated and broken. Translation: my jaw was broken in five places and wired shut for months. I moved home and became completely dependent on my family…and by completely, I mean my mom fed me through a tube. I made two major life decisions during this time: I decided it was my calling to go to law school and use the gifts that God gave me to help those around me, and I decided that I would follow in the footsteps of my heroes Lane Frost and Bill Linderman and represent the sport of rodeo.

While I decided to attend Gonzaga University School of Law so that I could live at home and be near my horses, I spent my first two years of law school traveling to rodeos before taking a three-semester leave of absence to compete for Miss Rodeo America and become the first Miss Rodeo Washington to bring home the national title. While a state queen travels the country, I traveled over 120,000 miles and spent over 340 days away from home as Miss Rodeo America. Essentially, I spent two years living out of a suitcase and staying at hotels and other people’s houses.

I returned to law school only a few weeks after giving up the Miss Rodeo America crown, but I definitely didn’t stop traveling! I went to work for the stock contractor at Rodeo Houston for a month…and packed the morning that I left. I literally flew off to rodeos for a month the day after I finished the bar exam, and as you can imagine packing had been the furthest thing from my mind and my post-bar exam brain wasn’t the sharpest. If you think rodeo has become any less a part of my life as my law career has taken off, you would be completely wrong! I started timing Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeos the same year I started a full time job at a law firm in Coeur d’Alene.

So, how did I get here, sitting on the ground packing for Cheyenne? I interned for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association in law school, and loved my time in Cheyenne. But more importantly, God put it on my heart nearly eight years ago to use my skills and knowledge to work to help farmers and ranchers. While I knew I was helping people as a public defender in North Idaho, I woke up just before my 30th birthday and decided that my current job was not where I wanted to be for the long term. So here I am, heading off to work for a firm that describes their specialty as “cowboy law,” and basically offered me what I would’ve made up as the perfect job if someone had asked me what I wanted to do in law school.

Am I excited? Of course! Am I scared? Definitely. Am I questioning leaving my family, my sweet older dog and five of my horses? Absolutely. Am I still defining who I am every single day? Completely! I realized during my packing that I have no idea what “normal” people wear. I have barn clothes, lawyer clothes, and rodeo clothes.

Did you notice the bow pin in my photos? That was my grandmother’s, and I wear it nearly everyday. My necklace? That was my other grandmother’s and I’ve rarely taken it off since she passed. Both of those pieces are a special part of who I am and make me feel like two of the most amazing influences in my life are with me when I wear them. My white shirt, floral shell, and watch? Hand-me-downs from a mother that you would never know was a powerful, internationally-known career woman from the all the time she spent with us being supermom during my childhood. Seriously, my mother took that watch off of her wrist when leaving me at college and told me to remember “she was thinking of me all the time.” My shoes? My law school graduation present to myself for graduating with honors and debt-free thanks to academic scholarships and my Miss Rodeo America scholarships.

These little things are an insight into who I am, and that’s why I’m so excited to be part of Miranda’s photography branding membership. She doesn’t just “take photos,” she truly gets to know her branding members and captures who they are in a unique and special way.

Well, this has been a delightful way to procrastinate my packing, but since two horses are coming with me and counting on me, I better get packing so I can leave on time and make it to my first stop with plenty of time to ride them before bed! In classic Katherine fashion, my truck (complete with Capri camper) and horse trailer and going into the shop tomorrow before I leave. This week, I’m closing one chapter of my life and opening a new one, and I’m excited to take you all on this journey with me…because I’ll definitely be writing another blog to let you all know how to big move goes and how it goes settling into a new community!


Katherine Merck

An advocate of the Western way of life and agricultural industry in all aspects of her life, Katherine Merck is a lawyer, entrepreneur, and cowgirl who is dedicated to uplifting others through her motto, Kindness Matters. 

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