Article by LINDSAY PETERSON The Tampa Tribune Published: February 10, 2009 Updated: 02/10/2009 06:36 pmhttp://www2. tbo.com/content/ 2009/feb/ 10/101836/ jobless-cowgirl- heads-west- work/
Donna Byrne, a cowgirl, has lost it all in this economy. She only has her 2 horses left. She is headed to Texas from Arcadia, FL via horse back in hopes of finding work. She is truly a homeless cowgirl with only a tent and her horses.
Donna lost her job in Arcadia a couple of months ago, so she decided to take off for Texas - on horseback. Her horses, Jay and Tonto, are about all she has left. "I lost my job and my house. I'm not losin' these guys," she said. Without them, she'd be on foot.
Hoping to reach Ocala in two weeks, Byrne made her way through Hillsborough County today, riding Tonto and leading Jay, who was loaded down with about 100 pounds of everything she owns, her clothes, a tent and some blankets. With her dusty white cowboy hat pulled low, shading blue eyes and a weathered face, she and the horses stood on the side of U.S. 301 in Riverview Tuesday morning. Six lanes of traffic whooshed by, drivers honking, waving and yelling out.By evening, she was north of Interstate 4. Getting her horses over I-4 on the 301 overpass was touch and go, she said. Tonto spooked and stepped off the shoulder, forcing a truck to swerve out of the way. Otherwise, the horses have kept their heads.
Byrne, 44, is headed to a horse auction in Ocala, where she hopes to get a few days' work. Then she'll move on to Texas, maybe Amarillo. She's never been there, but she knows they have ranches. And that's the kind of work she's looking for.
She's not sure she'll make it, but she's getting help. Tonto threw a shoe Monday, and when Tonya Halvorsrod read about it in a story about Byrne on TBO.com, she called her husband, a farrier. "My wife called," said Clint Halvorsrod. "She was like, 'Honey, you have to help her.' "So he cruised 301 until he spotted Byrne near a truck stop north of I-4 and pulled over with his mobile horseshoeing rig. Byrne was shocked, but relieved to see him. He ended up putting new shoes on both horses. "She has a long way to go," he said. "It's really hard right now, everyone needs help."
Byrne started working with horses when she was a teenager, at stables around Tampa. "I can ride and rope cattle. I'm a cowgirl. That's all I've ever wanted to do. "Back in the '90s she worked on a ranch in Montana for a while. She also drove a truck, until she got too many speeding tickets and got caught driving with a suspended license. She tended cattle in Arcadia until the operation shut down a few months ago, she says. Then she went to work in a plant that made butterflies out of silk. That wasn't for her. "They said I wasn't making them right." So when she lost that job and lost her home because she couldn't pay the rent, she decided to take off, to find a real ranch. One day, she said, she'd like to have land of her own, in Montana with mountains in the background and a free-flowing stream, a private place where she could live her own life and not have to deal with nosy, critical people. She doesn't have any family to speak of, just a brother she doesn't speak to. But she has friends, she said, who tried to talk her out of taking such a long trip alone, exposed to the weather and the dangers of the road.
She's taking it easy, covering 10-15 miles a day, she said. "I'm OK. It's been OK so far." Monday night she slept "under the stars" across from a service station on U.S. 301, where she watered her horses and gave them the feed she's carrying. But tonight she and her horses plan to spend the night in Thonotosassa, on the property of a woman who has horses and sought out Byrne after seeing her story on TBO.com. "Horse people help horse people," said Clint Halvorsrod. Byrne hopes to make it to Dade City on Wednesday.