Cowboy Up Challenge

cowboy upYou 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!”



Cowboy Up Champion

Jim Anderson – this year’s Cowboy Up Challenge Champion. Photo by Dainya Sapergia

If it wasn’t clear before, it should be clear after Monday’s Cowboy Up Challenge final that Jim Anderson has this Extreme Cowboy Racing thing figured out.

The Strathmore horse trainer has competed three times in the Stampede’s Cowboy Up Challenge sponsored by the Extreme Cowboy Association.  In his debut in 2011, he was Reserve Champion. Last year, he won. This year, domination might not be too strong a word.  Anderson topped the field in all three nights of competition – and not by small margins.

“My mare was really good,” Anderson explained. “She was consistent all week long. On Day One I wanted to come out and make an impression on the judges so they knew I was here. I had a really nice run and won. The second go, I put a little more speed at it. She slipped on me once and she went on great. Today, she was just spot on. The course was a fun course – real fast, but a fun course. Day by day these courses got tougher and tougher, so the horses just have to keep that confidence and trust in you.”

Stampede organizers laid out an obstacle course in the Big Top that challenged each horse and rider combination. Right at the start, the rider had to stand on the saddle to grab a rolled-up T-shirt off a rack and then throw it into the crowd as he rode past. What followed was a bewildering series of tests of the rider’s control over the horse and the ability of both horse and rider to perform tasks requiring precision and finesse at as high a speed as they could manage.

A special moment after the big win. Photo by Dainya Sapergia

“I like the tougher obstacles,” Anderson said. “My mare’s got a lot of confidence in me, so the tougher they are, the better they are for me.” A very narrow bridge in the first two go-rounds, he noted, was ‘the eliminator’ for some of his competitors but one that his mare, Picasmokenlittlelena, handled well.

“This was the deepest field of riders they’ve ever had in Calgary,” Anderson pointed out. “Three-quarters of them were world champions.  They’re all great riders. You don’t walk away with anything here.” According to Peter Fraser, chair of the Stampede Western Performance Horse committee, of the six Americans and five Canadians competing in the Cowboy Up Challenge, six had world championship buckles, three had won at the Stampede and two were the most honoured riders in the sport.

Cam Schryver of Ojai, CA, was Reserve Champion, finishing the final 9.345 points in arrears of Anderson’s winning score of 124.840. The magnitude of Anderson’s victory can be seen in the fact that the points spread from Schryver in second down to fifth-place Tracy Pinson of Bushnell, FL was only 7.96 points. Schryver also was runnerup in the first go-round with Runt Rageth of Harris, MO third. Rageth was runnerup in the second go and finished third in the final. Lee Hart of Topeka, KS was fourth in the final and Glenn Stewart of Baldonnel, BC took third in the second go and was sixth in the final.

“It’s hard to get on top and it’s even harder to stay on top,” Anderson said. “It’s really nice because it’s my hometown here in Calgary and they put on an awesome show. My hat’s off to everybody who made this happen.”

Tales of Tough Terrain Editorial

It’s Out! The January / February issue of Western Horse Review is in the mail and this one is not to be missed. Seriously. With features on western weddings, equine careers and schools, wild horses, plus much, much more – this edition is visually stunning and a heck of a way to ring in the new year. A year, I should mention, that marks the 20th anniversary of WHR. Which means that you can you count on the WHR team to bring you a year’s worth of epic issues and page, after page, of literary spellbinders.

And I’m happy to announce that I have a special piece in this issue featuring Cowboy Challenge superstar, Jim Anderson of Strathmore, Alberta. Training and health editorial have always been somewhat of a passion of mine, so I was delighted when I got the chance to go on a “ride-along” with Anderson for this article.

“Jimmy” of course, was aboard his World Champion Cowboy Challenge mount “Patch.”

Unlike myself, who followed the pair into a steep coulee aboard an orange steed named, “Kubota.”

In this editorial, Anderson shares his best training tips for cowboy challenge competition. And I was lucky enough to capture it all while watching him and Patch do things like this:

And this:

And if I remember correctly, it was at this point that my trusty steed… bucked.

Low and behold, my blackberry fell right out of my pocket. Never to be seen again. <sad face> I was probably lucky to hang on to my camera.

Even still, it was a good day. And

I’m happy with how the article turned out. Here’s a little teaser to lead into Secrets of an Xtreme Cowboy



Anderson began trying his hand at cowboy challenges in 2011, and Patch has even less time in this particular arena. The eight-year-old mare, registered as Picasmokinlittlelena, sustained an injury early on in life, preventing her from being shown as a reining futurity prospect. Patch went on to foal “Hesa Shotgun Wedding”, but as his name indicates, the colt was not a planned incident.

After the colt was weaned, Anderson began training Patch for reining but discovered early in 2012 that she had a real knack for extreme cowboy challenges.

“She’s a really good-minded mare and she’s really confident in anything she does, so it was a good fit,” he says.

The trainer relays that a good cowboy challenge horse is one with a kind disposition and a lot of confidence in their rider.

“The ones that will try going over a steep hill or through water without knowing how deep it is, or whatever – if they will try for you even when they don’t know what’s coming up, those are the horses that are ideal for cowboy challenges. By nature, Patch has a lot of confidence in me and she tried everything I threw at her, so I knew she would be good at the event.”

With a shelf full of NRHA bronzes and trophy buckles and a list of credentials that requires several clicks of a computer mouse to scroll down, one may wonder why Anderson ever began to pursue the discipline of cowboy challenges in the first place.

“At many of the reining and horsemanship clinics I teach, I saw a lot of people having trouble with obstacles and communicating with their horses through this type of stuff. Sometimes it was as simple as a rider merely wanting to be able to ride from the barn to the arena, or go for a trail ride. Those are the little things that are actually big things,” the trainer states.

Anderson explains that realistically, there are many arena-ridden horses who find their nemesis packing their riders over little hills or down the trail on short rides, because they aren’t exposed to that type of scenario very often.

“So I started helping them get through those kinds of obstacles and teaching their horses how to learn, in addition to helping the horses have confidence and trust in their riders. From that, I realized there was a real demand for this stuff.

“Plus”, he grins, “It’s fun.”


Be sure to pick up the January / February issue of WHR! And for more on Jimmy’s credentials and whirlwind 2012, check out: World Champion Next Door

World Champion Next Door