Beyond the Badge

CDCR employee bucks bull-riding stereotypes

Woman leads a group of equestrians in a memorial parade.
Kimberly Henson rides her longhorn steer in regional parades including those for fallen officers. She also visits schools, elder-care facilities and other community events.

Longhorn steer rider educates community, honors fallen officers

By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Office of Public and Employee Communications

CDCR employee Kimberly Henson knew from an early age she had an affinity for bovines. Now, she directs that passion toward education, community involvement and rustling support for the longhorn steers’ forgotten contributions to settling the American West. When she’s not working at CSP-Sacramento (SAC), you will often find her on the back of her saddle-broke Texas longhorn steer, Cowboy Jazz, as they make their way through parades and small-town events. For Henson, her hobby helps her achieve work-life balance.

Woman in cowboy hat stands beside a longhorn steer.
Kimberly Henson and Cowboy Jazz.

“I work at SAC, recently as the Chief Deputy Warden’s Office Technician and now as the Facility C Captain’s Secretary.  I love working at CSP-SAC, as I have learned much about correctional safety awareness, the programs available for inmates to successfully transition back into society, and the complexity of managing the diverse needs of inmates at a level IV institution,” she said. 

When Henson says she enjoys her job, some don’t initially understand.

“I particularly appreciate the camaraderie and team spirit among the officers and the administration staff. The dedication to the the principles and practices of CDCR, sprinkled with playfulness, allows coming to work, inherent with possible danger, an enjoyable experience. Folks outside of prison work assume it’s a depressing job and are surprised and encouraged to hear of the program opportunities for inmates and the rewarding work environment,” she said.

Childhood dream

Why ride a longhorn steer instead of a horse? She said it goes back to her childhood.

“I have been bitten by the love-of-cattle bug since I can first remember,” she recalls. “This has been true throughout my life, rather than having a desire to have and ride horses.”

The process of training a steer to tolerate a saddle and take verbal commands has been a challenge. She owes it all to a trail-blazing comedy.

“I believe I was first inspired to ride a bovine by seeing the movie, ‘Blazing Saddles,’ when Mondo rode into town on a Brahma. Once my sons flew the nest, one thing led to another, and I bought an 11-month-old Texas longhorn steer to train to ride. I studied how to train a horse to ride, learned to ride myself, and began training the young steer,” she said.

“Cattle are herd animals, similar to horses, and respond to some language cues used in riding a horse. Taking on the project of teaching a steer to ride, with horns that will span over 6 feet, tip to tip, has been a rewarding mid-life opportunity. Why have a crisis when you can have an opportunity?”

Community involvement

For nine years, she’s taken Cowboy Jazz to fairs, senior care facilities, elementary schools and rode him in numerous parades. For Christmas parades, she laces Jazz’s horns with lights.

On social media, many have contacted her about how to train a bovine to ride.

“I have (social media contacts) from around the world interested in training a cow or steer to ride, and I am the only member that has successfully trained a bovine and regularly rides the horse trails. Fun fact for horse riders; I have found his trot is not unlike that of a horse which paces; smooth with no bounce,” she said.

Honoring the fallen and educating others

She and Cowboy Jazz have also helped honor fallen law enforcement officers.

“Most recently we had the privilege to participate in Cowboy Honor Rides for two fallen officers, Deputy Tara O’Sullivan and Deputy Brian Ishmael. We rode with the mounted patrol from many agencies including CHP, county sheriff, city police, search and rescue and other law enforcement supporters  We ride to show our respect and appreciation for the fallen officer’s service,” she said. “Jazzy fits in and is right in step, among hundreds of horses and riders.”

Cowboy Jazz will be meeting her coworkers during the Spring SAC Family Day event.

“I will be presenting him as a saddle steer and will be discussing how the Texas longhorn helped shape the West after the Civil War,” Henson said.

Woman rides a longhorn steer in a parade.
Kimberly Henson rides Cowboy Jazz, a Texas longhorn steer. She said she takes him on horse trails in addition to participating in parades and events.