Shelli Mader: Road to Ranching 8-8-11 |

Shelli Mader: Road to Ranching 8-8-11

I hate to admit that I’m kind of a failure as a country girl. Sure, I like living in the country, working cattle, and doing anything on horseback, but when it comes to operating machinery, I conveniently try to find something else to do. Not only does it make me nervous to drive anything more than a pickup, but truthfully, I’m just not that good at it.

I’ve always envied those girls who could drive a pickup and a horse trailer to rodeos. Sadly I haven’t ever been in that crowd. I was the girl whose dad (and later husband) had to drive her to all her rodeos and wait around to take her home. It wasn’t that I couldn’t drive the pickup and trailer – I definitely could drive it straight – it was just that all the rodeos where I grew up required some sort of backing or turning to get there, which immediately disqualified me from taking myself.

I first realized I had a driving problem when I was about 12. Up until that point my driving experience mostly consisted of using the four-wheeler and steering the pickup while my dad forked hay or cake out of the bed. But that summer my dad was busy and really needed help to work the summer fallow. Since I was the oldest kid in the family by nearly four years, I was automatically elected to do it. I don’t really remember much about that first lesson except that I was nervous and the more my dad coached me, the worse I drove. I only made it around the field once before my dad decided to do it himself.

That lesson made my dad realize he had to intervene with my driving problems quickly, so he set up some practice sessions. He started each lesson out with a good attitude and some great analogies (I still don’t really know how to feel where the trailer is when I pull one though), but by the end of each session he was frustrated and so was I.

Backing is my biggest driving challenge. I hope my dad gets some kind of reward in heaven for all the unsuccessful hours he spent teaching me. He really tried everything – backing pickups, backing cars, backing gooseneck trailers, bumper hitch trailers and even semis. His biggest (and he claims greatest) idea was having me use the riding lawnmower to practice backing. He thought that if I mowed the whole lawn in reverse I would learn to back. To my defense, I did try it for about 20 minutes, but when I couldn’t even get around the yard once, I gave up.

When I first got married my husband promised to help me learn to back better, but life got busy and we never got around to working on it. Now that we’ve been married eight years, we missed that golden opportunity of time when we had infinite patience for each other’s faults, so I gave up on that idea too.

I take heart in knowing that I am not the only woman who has trouble backing, but I want to learn. I know I’d be much better help on a ranch if I was good at driving equipment.

Someday, if I have some money to burn, I’m going to go to truck driving school. I would love the satisfaction of showing the men in my life I could drive (and back) a semi. Maybe if I pay some neutral party money I will finally learn to do it. But until then, if you see a red Chevy pickup with Kansas license plates on it and it is backing up, you might want to get out of the way. You never know, it could be me.

Follow Shelli on her blog at

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