You could say that Kateri Cowley has already had a fair bit of success at the Calgary Stampede. After all, she was the 2009 Stampede Princess. These days, however, Cowley’s focus is on a different crown – the Stampede’s Cowboy Up Challenge, Canada’s biggest Extreme Cowboy Racing event.
Raised on the Rafter 6 Ranch in Kananaskis, Kateri says, “I’ve had many, many hours in the saddle.” Not long after her reign as Stampede Princess, she found out about a new event that was coming to the Stampede – the Cowboy Up Challenge. “It just seemed to be right up my alley – having a horse and rider team that can handle anything,” she recalls. “Right away I was excited to give it a try. I gave up my crown in October and the first race was April.” At Aggie Days in 2010, there was a preliminary event that served as a qualifier for the first Cowboy Up Challenge. Kateri won it aboard her horse Kokanee.
It’s called Extreme Cowboy Racing, but, if you look at the results of the just-finished Extreme Cowboy Alberta Winter Series, gender doesn’t really make a difference. In April, when the winner’s buckles were awarded, the top scoring rider in all four classes was female. Kateri was the champion in the ultra-competitive Pro division.
Featuring twelve of the best horse and rider combinations to be found, the Cowboy Up Challenge is sanctioned by the international Craig Cameron Extreme Cowboy Association. The first round of competition takes place in the Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday, July 5th at 2:30pm. The second round is also in the Scotiabank Saddledome at 2:30pm on Sunday, July 6th and the final is in the same venue on Monday, July 7th, also at 2:30pm.
Extreme Cowboy Racing challenges riders and their mounts with a course complicated by a bewildering number of ingenious obstacles. In past years, there have been water hazards, narrow bridges and various kinds of tricky footing. Once there was even a scale-model chuckwagon pulled by miniature horses.
“They try to put you and your horse in really awkward positions to see who has the best connection and communication,” Kateri explains. She has a special bond with Kokanee, she adds. “I couldn’t ask for a better partner. He’s always had such a big heart and so much ‘try’.”
While Kateri has been in every Cowboy Up Challenge since 2010, her big brother David will be making just his second start in this year’s event. David was in the 2010 Challenge, he says, and, “It taught me a lot. I sold the horse I had been using and started training the horse I have now.” That first horse, he says, was too temperamental for the sport. Tucker, the horse he’ll be riding this year, has had five years to get ready. “I bought him as a two month-old foal with the mare. There was just something I liked about him,” David says. “I bought him specifically with the Cowboy Up Challenge in mind.”
“What I really like about it is that I’ve been training horses to trust me and to go anywhere and do anything. This is such a good sport for that,” he says. “It really shows the bond between horse and rider. You don’t know what to expect.”
David will have some distraction during the Challenge, as he is also filming the pilot of a reality TV show. “It’s following me around the world and introducing me to these unique horse cultures and seeing how the horses, and people, respond to a cowboy,” he says.
The Cowboy Up Challenge has become one of the most interesting events at the Stampede for people who enjoy high-quality displays of horsemanship. For the competitors, it’s an event anticipated all year long. “I love Stampede,” Kateri exclaims. “I look forward to it more than Christmas!”