Joel Nelson is highly respected in the world of cowboy poetry and recitation. He has appeared in many major cowboy poetry festivals, including the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which he co-founded. A Vietnam veteran and former custom saddle maker, Nelson is an excellent horse trainer. His CD The Breaker in the Pen (2000) was nominated for a Grammy Award. Nelson was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2009, and was also poet-in-residence at Rothbury, Northumberland, England. He lives and works with his wife on their 24,000-acre ranch outside Alpine, Texas, where they raise Corriente cattle.