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Courtney Lujan on Photography, Rodeos, and Self-Care

For International Women’s Month, we’re tipping our hats to a handful of inspiring women who harness their feminine strengths in their work and personal lives.

In the first installment of our interview series, HerStory Unveiled: The Women Behind the Curated Rustic Spaces We Love, we’re diving deep into the worlds of photography and rodeos with Courtney Lujan (@courtneylujanphotography). A force to be reckoned with, Courtney is a photographer, business owner, jewelry maker, equestrian enthusiast, mental health advocate, and fashion influencer all rolled into one. Her interest in Western aesthetics informs all of her pursuits, including the way she decorates her home. Saddle up for a glimpse into her remarkable journey, along with a few tips for elevating personal wellness and style.

We’re glad to have you here. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?

My name is Courtney Lujan. I’m 30 years old and live in Southern Oklahoma on a working cattle ranch operation. I’m a full-time professional photographer, own and operate an online store selling authentic turquoise jewelry, and I create content for Western-focused businesses as a social media content creator. I also just started silversmithing alongside my husband, so that’s been super exciting!

I’m an advocate for mental health and agriculture, and I’m passionate about style and Western fashion while sharing my outfits with my friends and followers. I love sharing my organic day-to-day by posting on my social media channels, while showcasing brands that I love and work with. Authenticity is incredibly important to me, and I always strive to stay true to myself, my core values, and my way of life.

I showcase that through the content I create and share! I believe in being transparent and vulnerable, especially when discussing important topics like mental health and self-love. Also, most importantly: I love Jesus. I am nothing without Him. Talk to God and learn to seek Him in all that you do. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Him, His Grace, or His love and I want everyone to know the love of Jesus Christ. Am I the perfect Christian? No. But I try very hard to love like Jesus and be half the person my dog thinks I am.

(My husband Jake and I)

(I reaaaallly love my doggos & love spending time with them! These are our fur children. Lexi (mini Aussie) BB (lab mix) and Milo (Kelpie).

Thank you for that very thorough introduction! It seems like your upbringing and love for the West has had a massive influence in your career choices. Can you tell us more about your Western background and how it’s shaped you as a creative?

So, I actually grew up in a town outside of Atlanta, Georgia and was not fully emerged in the Western industry in any way until I was a teenager! I was always the weird horse-crazy girl in school and I just never grew out of the phase. My parents put me in horseback riding lessons and jumping lessons on and off growing up, but never had my own horse until I was in middle school.

Entering high school, my dad was able to connect me with some amazing women who took me under their wing and introduced me to the world of rodeo. Through my high school years, I got to be on a great equestrian drill team and we traveled all across the South East performing at rodeos as a specialty act where we presented the American flag in a patriotic opening, as well as a choreographed speed drill.

This was probably the first time I was ever introduced to turquoise jewelry too and the Western bling. Back then the bling rhinestone belts were all the rage and the more bling, the better! I made many lifelong friends and connections through my years with the drill team, which then led to being able to enter the world of barrel racing. I continued to compete in barrel races and rodeos, until I woke up one day and decided I wanted to move to Texas. I fell in love with the West and just never felt like I belonged back East ever again.

(Me & my retired mare, Lottie. Lots of tears shed in her mane along with lots of miles traveled & broken hearts. She is the best horse I could have ever had & I’m so thankful to have her living out her years with me.)

Could you share the inspiration or journey that led you to pursue photography?

With photography, I was always infatuated with cameras and taking pictures. I would burn through throw-away cameras like nobody’s business, until I finally got my first “real” camera when I was in high school.

I was always toting my camera around with me during school, to band camp, to the park with my friends, just always taking pictures. When I got super involved with horses, I kinda just forgot about photography until one day in 2018, I was walking around Walmart and thought, “I should buy a camera and take pictures again.” Literally spent like $400 on a Nikon D3400, which was the entry-level DSLR you could buy at Walmart at the time, and that’s all she wrote!

I just started taking pictures of my horses and my friends, and that turned into people asking me to take their photos, which led to capturing weddings, shooting equine events and horse shows, then upgrading several cameras later, to transitioning to going completely full-time in May 2020! I was so scared to take the jump, but my amazing husband Jake reassured me it would all be fine and that he would support us if something flopped. It never flopped and I was making 4 times my previous income as a vet tech in a matter of just 3 months.

(Me taking photos out at my in laws ranch in Oklahoma.)

Which photograph do you consider your absolute favorite among those you've taken?

This is a super tough question, I have so many favorites from all of the different genres and styles that I shoot! There is one photo that’s very near and dear to my heart from Spring Works in 2018, when we were branding calves. The picture is of a cowboy holding the knife that he uses to castrate the bull calves, so that they can become steers. This is a necessary step in processing the growing calves. Ranchers love their cattle. It’s our duty to give them their best, healthiest life possible up until they ultimately fulfill their purpose in the beef industry. We love all our animals and are always very thankful for their sacrifice, as they nourish our bodies and bless the tables of others across the country. I actually entered this photo in the STS Ranch Wear Contest that year and I won 3rd place!


(Another favorite photo is this cowboy engagement session. Even Cowgirl Magazine posted it. We loaded up in the pick up and headed to the ranch for these photos and trotted off to location just in time for the prime golden hour light! One of my top favorite sessions, capturing wise and final edit wise!)

As a Western fashion content creator, can you share some insights into your creative process when conceptualizing and producing content?

Absolutely! I’ve always been just naturally a super creative person. Growing up, I loved writing, drawing, painting, music, anything art. This just carried on and grew and transformed as I got older, and now I can apply my creativity to not only creating content, but with styling outfits as well.

I really enjoy when a brand sends me products and gives me free reign to style it how I normally would, it gives me so much excitement and fire and it’s literally like playing dress up for a living. I like to keep up with fashion and social media trends as well to make sure that I’m up to date with the latest happenings, all while staying authentic to my own style and self. I feel it helps me level up my content being so comfortable in front of and behind the camera. That also makes me a confident leader for my clients when posing during my sessions.

You also talk about mental health on your social media and consistently offer words of encouragement to your audience. Can you share why this cause is important to you as a content creator?

We live in a cruel society where we are already not super kind to ourselves , and then we get on the Internet. Mental health is already such a misunderstood topic and I remember when it was so taboo to even talk about your feelings. I’m vulnerable about my mental health journey and my experiences because I want people to know it’s okay to not be okay—but you have to be the one to make the change in your life to fix it. You have to be the one to pull yourself out of the trenches. God will get you there, but you gotta take those steps.

For me, mental health starts with gut health, which stems from your eating habits. Putting your health first is self-love. You wanna know why so many people are depressed and anxiety-ridden? We are set up to fail by the system. They got us eating fast food instead of whole foods, and exposed constantly to heavy metals and toxins on the daily with no knowledge of how to flush them from our systems.

Young girls are just prescribed birth control for literally anything these days. I was on birth control when I was 14 until I was 29. That’s 15 years without my real, natural hormones—but big pharma is gonna tell you that’s normal. Depression and anxiety typically stem from other root causes and, instead of dealing with them, doctors just dope us up with psych meds. I strongly believe that most Americans on anti-depressants are doing more harm than good because they aren’t given the proper tools to better their mental health. It’s a crappy band-aid solution, but they don’t know any other way.

You deserve to be free of depression and anxiety and you absolutely can be. But you have to make the start and not let it win. I went on a long explanation there, but we see enough of “perfect” on social media. People deserve to see the “real” and if that means I gotta be vulnerable and expose my most inner self, you bet I’m there.

How has sharing your story helped you connect with your audience?

I’ve been so blessed. I have made some of my closest and best real-life friends through social media. Being authentic and transparent and real with sharing your day-to-day—the good and the bad—builds trust within your platforms. This is how I’ve met and made some of my very best friends, and I continue to connect with amazing people all the time through social media. Whether it’s from Western fashion and horses or the discovery page, social media has really made it possible for me to connect and get to know so many wonderful people that I wouldn’t have without it.

Between all my mental health medications I was on, I had been prescribed and was actively taking prescriptions for anxiety, depression, bi-polar 1, bi-polar depression, heart palpitations, birth control, and hypothyroidism. I went from being 145 lbs to 251 lbs in less than a year. I gained over a 100 lbs in one year. Big pharma failed me. Never once was I told about any other alternatives for bettering my mental health or quality of life in general.

I was always a happy-go-lucky girl and they had me out here hating myself and my new body. The Internet is still just as mean now to me than it was when I was overweight. I’m so thankful for the people who helped guide me in the right direction to take my life back, when my doctors failed me. My psychiatrist was the only one who was on board out of my 4 doctors when I told her I wanted to get off all my medications.

(These photos show my weight gain through my prescription medicines, not being kind to myself or my body & not knowing how to get back to ME. The last photo was in 2022.)

We agree that mental health is extremely important, particularly self-compassion. Could you share the self-care strategies you incorporate into your daily routine?

Self-love. You gotta love yourself. You gotta be kind to yourself. Speak lovingly about yourself to yourself. It all starts with affirmations. I downloaded this app on my phone called Motivation. It has lots of different quote categories, but start off by setting it to affirmations. When you read them, read them out loud 3 times. The Bible talks a lot about how powerful our words are. When you speak them out loud, they become. So, tell yourself you are successful, you are strong, you are beautiful, etc. and I promise your world will start to change. It won’t be overnight, but it will definitely change your mindset. If you can put in 1% every day to better yourself and your mindset, you will absolutely transform your life.

Diet. What you put into your body is 99% of the secret sauce, I swear. Stop fueling your body with the bad and fuel it with the good, and you’re already on the road to winning. I’m not saying you can’t ever eat McDonald’s or a boxed dinner ever again, but I promise once you start giving your body whole foods, you won’t even crave it anymore. Just be observant of the ingredients and what’s in your food. Stop the sugars. Stop the preservatives. Stop the dyes. I live by the 80/20 rule. You got this.

Mindfulness. This isn’t something that happens overnight, but is something you can work on every day. Do some research on this and apply it to your day to day. This also helped me to be able to respond instead of react to situations and conflict. Mindfulness also helps create gratitude and appreciation for the little things. It can also help you overcome bad eating habits, such as eating super fast or binge eating.

Lastly, sleep and get off them phones. I cannot stress this enough. You need absolutely 8 hours of sleep a night minimum, some of you may need 9. I started keeping my phone on Do Not Disturb mode always. The only contact that comes through is my husband’s. There is no reason why anyone should have 24/7 access to you. Period. Not work (only if you’re getting financially compensated for being available). Not family and friends (healthy boundaries are important). Not clients (start enforcing regular business hours like the bank does and stop bringing work into your home life).

Back in the day, people would leave messages and you would respond when you were available or ready. It is absolutely absurd that society thinks that just because we have cell phones, you gotta answer it. Put it on DND, enjoy your day, take care of business, be present in your home, and set time to catch up on messages and calls. My phone not dinging every 3 minutes has also really calmed my cortisol levels as well.

Sleep is also a critical part of self-care, but one people often overlook, especially with the busyness of daily life. How do your bedding choices help you foster more peaceful sleep and energized mornings?

It is absolutely over looked! I used to be a chronic night owl. Stay up late, wake up early, do it all again. I was exhausted and drained mentally, spiritually, emotionally. My husband goes to bed around 9PM, almost like clockwork every night. I’ve really made it a point to stop what I’m doing (unless I absolutely can’t) and go to bed at the same time. This also gives us time to just lay with each other and I think it’s really important to go to bed the same time as your spouse, if possible.

I’m a bedding snob! My husband is super hot-natured and I’m cold-natured. So, with that being said, I have a base layer bedding, usually my Yosemite Quilt Set because anything heavier and he gets too hot! But in the winter, I love my electric blanket and I also sleep with a super plush fleece blanket. When I was weaning off of my psych meds, I slept with a weighted blanket as well. This really helped me transition to better sleeping habits.

Yosemite Quilt Set

What’s your favorite Paseo Road bedding and what makes it stand out to you?

Aside from the quality of the bedding at Paseo Road, I really love the designs! Pattern-wise, the Yosemite Collection and the Ranch Life collections are my favorite. I don’t personally own one of the Stella Faux Silk Velvet Quilts, but she’s definitely on my bucket list to add to my home.

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