Austin horse whisperer Jo Marie MacCoy is inspiring a new crop of riders.

Story and photos by Gretchen M. Sanders

Jo Marie MacCoy could ride a horse before she could pedal a bike. She spent her teenage years learning everything she could about the 1,000-pound animals. By 18, she was training them. Today, the 33-year-old has her dream job, providing riding lessons to children and adults at parks and barns throughout Austin and Central Texas.

The owner of Maverick Horseback Riding also has a 105-acre ranch in Lockhart, Texas, where she leads horse lovers on stunning trail rides. Beginner, intermediate and advanced students can spend hours in a saddle, trotting up hills and wading through a creek on MacCoy’s property.

MacCoy, who usually travels bareback, takes care to select the right mount for every rider; quarter horses, thoroughbreds, Appaloosas, paint horses, Morgan crosses, mini horses and ponies make up her herd. Tending to 25 horses doesn’t leave the North Carolina transplant much downtime.

“Running a ranch is everyone’s dream job until they realize how much work it takes,” MacCoy says. “There’s really no routine.”

Here’s how 80-hour workweeks keep this wrangler in bareback-riding shape.


“Every day on a ranch is different. Typically, I wake up around 7:30 a.m. and have coffee before I do anything else. Next, I go outside to call in the horses. I use an all-terrain vehicle to round them up. When I’m tired or having a bad morning, I say to myself, ‘You’re on an ATV in an enchanted forest, chasing horses. It’s not that bad.’ ”


“Some days I’m so busy, I jog from my house to the barn and back. I don’t have time to walk. Ranch work is very physical. I’m constantly hoisting 20-pound saddles, brushing horses, feeding animals, mending fences, pulling weeds and pickaxing riding trails. I also run 3 to 4 miles twice a week and do yoga. I eat about 4,000 calories a day.”


“I put away 2,500 calories in liquids daily. I’m always thirsty, and it’s easy to have a low-sugar veggie drink while I multitask. Some days, I only have time for one solid meal, and I’ve been known to eat a taco while riding a horse! Plant-based protein shakes and granola bars keep my energy up while I’m working. I try to avoid cheap carbs, sugar and fake ingredients. At night, I’ll cook something at home or go out to dinner. I live in the barbecue capital of the world, so I take advantage of that.”


“I use Western saddles and hackamores, a bridle with no bit. I tell riders to wear jeans and long-sleeve shirts to protect against branches and brush on the trail. It’s important to wear boots with a good heel, and I ask everyone to put on a helmet that I provide.”


“I work hard for my son, Sammy, who is 10. I care about conservation, and I want him to see me working this ranch and taking care of the land we live on.”


“Gratitude and grit.”


“I step away from all screens about an hour before bedtime. Evenings are for family, for watching the sun set, for reading books. I like to be in bed between 10:30 and 11 p.m.”



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