Those who know Shishana Rourke tend to think twice these days when trying to swap stories with their longtime friend.
That’s not to suggest they’re mad at her. She’s easily their most favorite person on the planet. It’s just that Rourke, an Argyle resident, has experienced more in her 29 years than most of us could dream up in our most creative moments. And this often leads to an unintended game of one-upmanship when standing around the proverbial water cooler.
“It makes me feel bad. I didn’t mean to one-up you, but here we go,” Rourke said with a laugh. “The other day, we were hanging out, and I was listening to people talk about how they used to go on hikes when they were kids. And I’m like, ‘When I was a kid, my parents locked me outside, and we stalked moose or chased a bear for a few hours.’ People are always like, ‘What? Holy cow!’ Every time I think back to my life, it’s something different every time.”
She’s not kidding. Rourke is the proud owner of Nine Spur Ranch, a small equine rehabilitation and riding ranch with an outdoor arena in Argyle. She has a small calf named Bert who lives inside — yes, inside — her house. Outside, there are tons of horses and other animals, including a water buffalo named Hank, Codee the zonkey, and a 7-year-old horse that Rourke has had since it was an embryo at the bottom of a cup.
She was born in the Caribbean and was the first child legally adopted from St. Lucia to a U.S. family living in Alaska. Her biological father was an Olympic sprinter, and when she was born, she was their ninth child.
Today, she is one of 21 siblings in her biological family. Seven are full siblings. The rest are half.
Rourke and her adopted sister, Maya, really did stalk moose and bears. And unlike kids today who typically have their noses buried in a phone, iPad, or another gaming device, the only electronics they had growing up were power tools.
“I know. It’s a crazy story,” she said. “There wasn’t a specific reason for me getting adopted, either. I wasn’t in danger or anything like that. But my adoptive parents were insistent, and everything ended up working out the way that it did. Part of the agreement with me getting adopted was that I go back often to the Caribbean and visit my family. So we are all really close. I’ve been back 13 times.”
So how did Rourke go from all of that, including living in Alaska, to moving to Argyle and owning Nine Spur Ranch?
To tell that story, you first have to appreciate her love of animals — and that often leads to even more intriguing tales. Her adoptive parents bought her riding lessons when she was 8 years old, and she immediately fell in love. Naturally, she wanted a horse of her own, so she saved up $1,100 and set out with her mother to find the perfect mare. This included a pilgrimage to Israel and trips to every nook and cranny of Alaska.
Shishana found her horse, and by the time she was 11, she was training.
“I think I got bucked off every single day for a year,” Rourke said. “But I stuck with it. When I eventually went off to college, I was one of 36 students accepted to the University of Montana Western for natural horsemanship. I got a four-year degree in natural horsemanship, a two-year degree in equine science with a management minor, and I was recruited for a job here [in Texas] in 2014.”
By 2020, she had quit to officially open Nine Spur Ranch, which, if you’ve ever been, is definitely more than your average ranch. Rourke shows horses, rescues others that suffered from years of neglect and were on the verge of death, and purchases others as project horses that need a little TLC to reach their full potential.
Rourke rescued 10 horses last year alone, and Nine Spur Ranch typically places about 100 to 150 horses per year into loving homes. In fact, her ranch just went international with its sales last year, having sold a pony to a buyer in Switzerland.
Beyond all the good deeds she does for horses and other animals, Rourke also opened Nine Spur Ranch to the public to offer beginner rider lessons to children. This includes kids who are simply looking for an outlet to overcome the harmful effects of bullying and trying to develop healthy social connections.
Her programs include Farm Life, which gives kids a true-to-form life-on-the-farm experience doing everything from riding horses to cleaning stalls and doing other chores.
“I remember being bullied when I was younger, and being around horses helped. One of the reasons why I opened to the public was because there are so many families where kids don’t have chances to go outside and just be outdoors,” Rourke said. “I wanted a place where kids can run around, go crazy, chase a pig, etc. It’s a lot of fun — and a lot of work.”
Naturally, running a ranch and doing so many good deeds has led to even more stories. Rourke is happy to share them all and then some, provided that her friends don’t mind getting one-upped a few more times.
“It’s crazy stories. I know,” she said. “But it’s a life I am certainly thankful for.”
Learn more about Nine Spur Ranch at www.facebook.com/ninespurranch.