The rhythmic sound of my horses hooves grew louder and faster below me as I lightened my hold on the reins. Her breath seemed to move in and out of her nostrils like the force of a locomotive. I press my boots into the stirrups, sitting up out of the saddle and leaning forward. Both her hindquarters and forehand charging forward with equal power. The Hill doesn’t slow her down, she only tries harder and harder until we’ve reached the top.
I was born in California. Growing up in a small rodeo town in east county San Diego, horses captured my heart at a very young age. As a little girl, I would run around on all fours trying to recreate the freedom and purpose that horses moved with. I have had an understanding and connection to them for as long as I can remember.
I’ve also had my feet in a pair of boots for as long as I can remember. The 3 things I look for in a boot have never changed. How they feel in the stirrups, how they feel on the ground, and how they are constructed.
My family moved to the lower foothills of Yosemite National Park when I was 11. I grew up showing horses in a wide range of disciplines: Western pleasure, English, reining, and cutting. I’ve had the honor of riding and owning many great horses throughout my life, and a piece of my heart belongs to every one of them. After an 8 year hiatus from anything involving horses, I began having dreams about riding again. Very vivid and realistic. A stirring in my soul began that couldn’t be ignored. I knew I had to start riding again.
My parents had moved to northern Arizona and I was living back in San Diego. I began making the 6.5-hour drive out there to visit them sometimes as often as twice a month. I was looking through an equine sales website one day and stopped when I saw a photo of a stocky Bayroan Appaloosa named Apache. Long winter coat and head hanging, she really didn’t look like much; yet, I clicked on the ad and began reading about her. Little did I know the journey I was about to embark on with this mare. The previous owner of Apache is a well respected horse trainer in Prescott, Arizona. He was kind enough to work out a darn good deal with me so that I could buy her. He said Apache and I belonged together.
Since then, together we have been in ads for Henry Rifles, True Horsemanship, Kimes Ranch, Stetson and now Lucchese. I have been modeling for 12 years, but to work with western companies and be around horses just feels so natural to me. I know my smile is a little brighter when I do these sorts of photo shoots. I can’t help but feel I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
As for Lucchese, it has especially been a great honor. They have always been a company I admired. 136 years of tradition and unsurpassed quality. That’s simply something that’s earned with time and hard work. That’s probably why those who buy Lucchese boots stay true to the brand. I don’t want to wear anything else.
I feel incredibly fortunate to know what fills my soul and be blessed enough to do it. The world doesn’t weigh as much with a full heart. And your feet aren’t as tired at the end of a long day in a good pair of boots.
Nicole Zuelke is an Arizona-based model, westernwear aficionado, horse woman, and leather craftsman. Shop the styles featured: Ruth women's performance barn boot, Maeve women's full quill ostrich, women's equestrian belt.