July 12, 2018 6:55 am
Updated: July 12, 2018 9:27 am

Extreme cowboy racing tests horsemanship at the Calgary Stampede

Cowboys and cowgirls showcase their horsemanship at the Calgary Stampede's Cowboy Up Challenge. Michael King reports

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The 10 days of rodeo and chuckwagons may pack the grandstand at the Calgary Stampede every night but some of the toughest competition on the grounds happens in the Western Event Centre.

The Cowboy Up Challenge is three days of extreme cowboy racing, where horses and riders — men and women — navigate obstacles in a timed event. They are also being judged on how they complete each aspect of the course.

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The obstacles include bridges, merry-go-rounds and jumps. Other tests of horsemanship include dismounting and asking the horse to stand still while the rider completes a task.

“You have to have a really good relationship with your horse to be able to do all the stuff that we do,” said competitor Josh Sandness. “I mean they have to trust you so you can stand up on them and trust you to stand still when you go off and answer a phone.”

READ MORE: Chuckwagon driver in good spirits after injury in race at Calgary Stampede

The course changes with every race so riders and horses need to adapt on a daily basis while competing.

Craig Cameron — the creator of extreme cowboy racing — said he came up with the sport after seeing how specialized rodeo horses have become. His idea was to combine multiple horsemanship skills into one single event.

This is the ninth year Calgary has hosted the competition and Cameron said cowboy racing is the fastest growing sport in the equine industry, adding that only the best riders compete at the Calgary Stampede.

“The Stampede is an invitational event. We have the world’s best pro riders here. It’s such an honour to be at the Calgary Stampede. This event fits in because it’s that good and that exciting.”

Along with hosting some of the best riders in the world, the prize money at the Stampede is also first class. The winner of Thursday’s final will take home a cheque for $30,000. That’s roughly 10 times what the world champion extreme horse racer would take home.

The final round is held at the Western Event Centre on July 12 at 7 p.m.

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