My story to date has been parallel with horses and Wyoming, a lifetime spent in the saddle, roaming the wide-open spaces, packing into the mountain wilderness, and working cattle from the back of good horses. For most of the past 44 years of my adult career, there have been people from all over the world who have followed along on many horseback adventures with me, and the mentors, teachers, employees, and friends who shaped my life and philosophy along the way.
I was born on September 24, 1959 in the little ranch town of Lusk, Wyoming. My parents, Robert and Shirley Hladky brought me home to the Patrick Brothers Hereford ranch to live in a little trailer house, their first of four children. My dad was the foreman of the ranch at that time so he was a full-time cowboy. My mom, a knowledgeable and skilled horsewoman in her own right, made our home a welcoming and fun place to be for everyone who came by. I was fortunate enough to be raised by parents who believed that girls were just as capable at working on a ranch as boys, and my dad insisted that when we were big enough to ride safely by ourselves (age 5 for me), we would be out horseback with him working and moving cattle. My mom and her father, Jasper Seaman, had a deal to raise good ranch horses with his mares and my mom’s stallion, Hat Creek Rage, her high school graduation gift. Early on, those colts came to be started and ridden by my dad for his ranch work, and his competitive team roping and calf roping. The first horse I ever rode by myself at age 5 was one of these, a 3-year old named Bill, who was well over 15 hands tall, athletic, and fast. Dad took me with him and the other cowboys to go move some cows, and when Bill trotted downhill to cross a little wash, I bounced off. Dad was out circling up cattle, but one of the cowboys caught Bill and brought him back, helped get back on, and he said “Jo, you’re going to have to keep up.” I learned pretty quickly after that how to post a trot and stay on.
In my mind, my dad was one of the first feminists I ever knew; there was no discrimination on his part when it came to us girls doing anything on the ranch. We were his hands, his help, and we learned how to work, be conscientious about the quality of what we did, to be mindful of how to care for livestock, especially our horses, and probably most importantly, to have fun as often as possible. When my brother came along and was big enough to join us, we all took part in his ranch education, and he made a hand as well. Along with learning how to work cattle, put up hay, build fence, and every other job on the ranch, we also learned how to rope and rodeo, competing in breakaway roping, goat tying, team roping, barrel racing, and pole bending. It was a hard life of hard work, but our childhood was fun, and our parents supported us in everything we did. My dad emphasized safety and care in everything we did, so the foundation was laid early on with us to be deliberate and careful in our work, and in our lives in general.
When I graduated from high school, I attended Eastern Wyoming College for a year, and after that, married my husband Mike Wade, a local cowboy whose dream was to be a mountain man. He had been a wilderness packer and guide, and he included me in the adventure of that backcountry life. A totally different perspective on horses was apparent in this life, and I learned just what horses could really do, along with how hard their life can be. My education in this career of packing mules and horses, wrangling horses off high mountain slopes at a high gallop, guiding a few hunters, and a lot of camp cooking was eye-opening, as I learned how to manage a herd of 60-70 horses in a wilderness setting. My husband was a talented horseman in every aspect of the word, and as we worked our way through the wilderness experience into our own outfitting operation, he decided to expand his knowledge by learning a better way to work with horses; this is where his and my exposure to the philosophy of Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt, and eventually Buck Brannaman came into play.
In 1988, Mike and I ventured into our own small business adventure with our hunting and pack trip business. For the next 31 years we took hundreds of guests on horseback into the Wyoming Range, and the Teton, Washakie, and Bridger wilderness areas in collaboration with other outfitters on a few trips. Our daughters Amanda and Emily were born into the horseback riding business as well, and grew up learning how to work, ride, and take care of people, which has served them both very well in their adult lives. In 2000, our business shifted to the Red Desert and the “Golden Triangle”, as Blue Sky Sage was born, and we rode the wide-open spaces with guests from all over the world beside us on horseback. Our rides took us to the top of mountains like Oregon Buttes and Big Prospect, across rivers named Sweetwater and Little Sandy, and through the rolling hills and draws of the northern Red Desert and Little Colorado desert, in search of the wild horses roaming free in their natural habitat, and the elk herds brushed up in the sage on a hot summer day. All those days began and ended around an open campfire with cowboy coffee, Dutch oven meals, and a little guitar and song. Needless to say, the stories of those adventures are many, are colorful, and emotional to everyone who ever was part of one. During this same time, we started doing weeklong horsemanship clinics, and I eventually took over those and dedicated them to women who were starting to ride horses later in life, or who wanted to continue on their horsewoman’s journey with input from our perspective while riding the open range.
In the spring of 2019, Mike took his own life at the Little Sandy camp, and I was left with the decision on whether to continue Blue Sky Sage on my own. With the support of my daughters, and the many, many guests who knew and had ridden with Mike and I, it was an easy decision to continue doing what I loved, and sharing the horseback adventures and our Wyoming heritage with those who wanted to come and join me. It was a healing journey for all of us to continue to ride, and be awestruck in the wild country we trotted across each day. My daughter Emily Wade spent 2020 and 2021 as my right-hand woman in camp and out riding, and as it turns out, those were the best two seasons of my career, as sharing that experience with her was priceless. And out of the grief and recovery from Mike’s death, I learned that I was able to share my experience with others on how I was able to work through to find joy and peace again. I continue to try and be a good example of resilience and self-care to others going through trauma and grief. My motto is “Be the Heroine of Your Own Life”, which is what I have learned to do, and I encourage you to do the same.
I continued running women’s horseback riding retreats in 2022 and 2023, and in September 2023, I made the decision that it was time to shift my career onto a different trail, so I retired from running fully outfitted and guided rides. At the time I am writing this profile, my goal is to become an equine consultant, offering up my career knowledge and skill sets to individuals who are on their own horsemanship journey, and to dude and guest ranch operations and trail ride businesses needing horse staff training and management programs that foster safety, consistent experiences, and fun for all humans and horses in any situation.
Today, I am happy to be able to continue working with horses and people, and as many of my former guests and friends will attest to, I am excited to share what I have to offer with new clients while continuing to maintain the relationships that built my career and personal life so profoundly. I am ready and able to help anyone with their horse program or their personal horsemanship journey.
Career Summary Bullet List:
- Lifetime Wyoming resident, raised on cattle/horse ranches.
- Comprehensive knowledge of local and statewide history, legacy and image of Wyoming, and the western lifestyle.
- Career horsewoman and trail ride guide for over 44 years
- Small business owner, self-employed since 1988
- Lifetime horse professional. My qualifications include but are not limited to: training horses for ranch, trail, cattle, packing & back country; purchasing & overall management and oversight of horses, 20-100 head; rehabilitation of horses with behavior issues. Thousands of miles in the saddle under nearly every type of situation that ranch/wilderness/open country has to offer.
- Development of operations manuals and systems for horse procurement and management, field catering services, remote campsite situation, employee handbook, safety, employee training.
- Website maintenance & creative development, marketing & advertising (online, print, trade shows, presentations); brand & identity development; social media marketing & development of online presence; email marketing campaigns; research & development of potential market niches & opportunities.
- Federal, state and local governments commercial operations permitting, and public lands operating requirements; development of outfitting operation plans.
- Ability to train and integrate employees into the company structure, with established guidelines for image, professional presentation, and expectations related to care of customers, horses, facilities, & represent the company to outside observers, vendors, communities.
- Logistics planning, organization, management, and execution of office and administrative duties required of a small business.
- Developed Camp Cook School curriculum for training potential employees.
- Proficient with a wide variety of software, i.e., QuickBooks, MS Office, Google Apps, “cloud computing”; bookkeeping, supplies and equipment procurement, contract negotiations, basic grant-writing, in-house marketing materials design and creative writing ability.