Whether it was with wild horses, barrel horses or movie horses, Sammy Thurman Brackenbury lived her life with spirit, a sense of adventure, and a […]
Back When They Bucked with Jan Youren
Written by: Ruth Nicolaus< Back to Articles
If the boys could do it, Jan Youren was there to prove that girls could do it, too.
The Idaho woman was a roughstock cowgirl for nearly all of her life.
Born in 1943 as the second oldest child of Sterling and Madelyn Alley, the family lived on a farm and ranch near Garden Valley, Idaho.
The Alley place was the last house on the road up Alder Creek, Jan said, and it was seven miles to town. “When I was six years old, I would ride to Crouch,” a village near her home, Jan remembered.
She wasn’t big enough to saddle her own horse, and they didn’t have an extra saddle for her anyway, so she rode bareback, “all the time, all over the mountain. I was a bit of a wild child, so most time it was at a high rate of speed.”
That’s how she was raised, she said. “You did your chores and the day was yours. You could go do what you wanted to, if dad and mom didn’t have anything special for you to do.”
By the age of eleven, Jan was riding bareback broncs and bulls. Her daddy produced the first full all-girl rodeo, and he entered her in every event. The rodeo was in Emmett, Idaho, and she placed in two events: the bareback broncs and cow riding. “I won $54 for twenty-four seconds of work and I thought I was on the road to riches,” she said.
Jan competed at junior rodeos and all-girl rodeos, and in 1960 she graduated from high school.
She was married and had her first two children within eleven months.
After her first two babies were born, she continued to ride barebacks, but not with the skill she had possessed before.
It was 1962, and her dad told her something she didn’t want to hear. “My dad said, ‘Babe, you better quit and be a mom. You’re just not riding like you used to.’” That set a spark back into Jan. “You talk about waving a red flag in my face,” she said.
She went to prove him wrong. At a rodeo in Glenns Ferry, Idaho, she drew a buckskin horse. Her timing was right, she spurred him, and her dad changed his mind. “He came up to me and said, ‘Babe, I take it all back. That’s the best ride I’ve ever seen you make.’ I was in seventh heaven.”
She continued to rodeo at all-girl events. She was a charter member of the Idaho Girls Rodeo Association then the Girls Northwest Rodeo Association, which included events in Oregon, Washington and Montana.
In 1966, she was invited to an invitational international all girl rodeo in Calgary.
The rodeo was organized by Pearl Borgul, a public relations person who was excellent at promoting rodeo but didn’t always understand the sport. Jan remembered one time that Pearl insisted the contestants wear corsages donated by the chamber of commerce. She balked at that. “I said, ‘Pearl, I am not riding a bucking horse with a three-inch pin under my chin.’” Pearl conceded.
From that rodeo, the Girls International Rodeo League (GIRL) was formed, and Jan became a charter member of that organization, too. The League had good events. “They were probably the best, and the best paying rodeos,” she said.
All the time, she continued to work as a waitress, a job she had started as a twelve-year-old girl at her aunt and uncle’s restaurant.
By this point, she had divorced her second husband, Roger, in 1965.
At a rodeo in 1970, she met her third husband, Dee Edmondson. He rodeoed, and when Jan’s oldest daughter was old enough to ride, Jan and the kids moved to Texas, where the spring and fall shows took place. Dee moved to California and worked for Cotton Rosser.
A few years later, at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, Jan ran into her uncle, Jim Youren. Jim had been married to her mother’s sister, and his wife died of cancer. Jan knew Jim well; Aunt Carol had lived with her family when she was dating Jim.
They began to call each other. Jim wanted to marry her, but Jan wasn’t ready yet. But he persisted, and they married on January 31, 1984. “I saved the best till last,” Jan joked. “I tell people practice makes perfect.”
Jan continued to rodeo. Bareback riding was her best event, in part because she had ridden bareback so many years as a kid. For the first twenty-five years of her rodeo career, she did the timed events too. But when she moved to Texas with the kids, she didn’t have an arena and access to calves, and it was cheaper to throw a riggin’ bag in a truck and leave.
She never felt discriminated against by cowboys. She never competed against the men; it was only women’s rodeos that she competed in. And the men knew she wasn’t trying to be one of them. “Too many girls thought you were doing a man’s event and had to act like one,” she said. Her daddy had set her straight years ago. “My dad told me, you are a lady. You can be as tough as you can, but when you start getting rough, you’re done.” Usually, she said, after the men realized she was a professional at her sport, they accepted her. “Most of them were very respectful and helpful to us,” she said, recalling that Lane Frost and world champion Bruce Ford had pulled her rigging many times.
In 2006, she and Jim moved from their ranch in Bruno, Idaho, to Cimarron, Kansas. Horse properties in Idaho were expensive, and Jim was tired of flood irrigating 400 of the ranch’s 700 acres. They were there seven years, then they moved back to Idaho. Jim didn’t appreciate the never-ending wind, and they missed home.
Jan’s list of accolades stretches far. In 1965, she won the first saddle for the all-around in the Idaho Girls Rodeo Association, also winning the bareback riding and tie-down roping. In 1981, she won the bareback riding in the Girls Rodeo Association, and in 1987 she won it again, this time with a broken back. “I didn’t realize my back was broken,” she said. “I thought I was just being wimpy.” In 1994 and ‘95, she won the bareback riding again.
Through this, she was taking her kids rodeoing and supporting them at their events.
Between her and Jim, they have fifteen kids. Hers are Tonya, Jim, Todd, Dawnita, Susie, Kristen, and Ty. Jim’s are Deanie, Deb, Dusty, Dixie, Doug, Don, Dodi, and together, their last child, is Cole. Jan rode against all four of her daughters throughout her career.
She always said she’d quit when her granddaughters beat her. In 2005, she shattered her arm at a rodeo in Grand Valley, Idaho in August, breaking it in seven places. The repair work required plates, a rod and three pins. The finals were in October, and she wasn’t supposed to ride, but she did. Her second granddaughter, Tavia, got ahead of her in points, and at the finals, Tavia beat her grandma for the year-end title, finishing one place ahead of her. That was her last professional rodeo; she had competed for 51 years.
Her last ride was six years ago, at a women’s roughstock reunion when she was nearly seventy years old. Son Cole and grandson Zane discouraged her from riding, hiding her riggin’ bag and then, when they realized she couldn’t be stopped, finding a horse that was as safe as possible. Cole chose a good bronc, instead of the runaway, because she wasn’t able to get off on the pickup man. She got on, but after the whistle, her dismount was straight to the ground. “I was satisfied with my last ride but when I bailed off, I hit the ground like a ton of bricks.” She told Jim, “I didn’t bounce.”
Jim passed away in 2014. She fills her life with her kids, grandkids (there are 64 of them) and great-grandkids (97 of them and counting.) Most of the grandkids are in Idaho, but some are scattered from Washington to Florida and she loves being grandma. “I said I’d see them all at least twice a year so they know who I am.” She goes to whatever activities they participate in: rodeo, football, basketball, track, and more.
Rodeo was great to her. “I was on the road for a lot of years and had a lot of riches, but not necessarily monetary,” she said.
Her family is her biggest accomplishment. “I raised nine kids that have never been in any serious trouble and never into drugs.
“I tell everybody I’m the most blessed woman in the world. I have all those kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids, and they’re all healthy. I did something I thoroughly enjoyed my whole life and had a small measure of success at it. And I still get around as well as most women my age, and they didn’t have half the fun I’ve had.”