Take a test of horsemanship skills, throw in some obstacles you might find on the trail or a working ranch, add the element of speed, and top it off with a big dollop of fun. This is extreme cowboy racing.
Photo courtesy Extreme Cowboy Association
Improved horsemanship skills and a deeper sense of trust from her horse are also bonuses for Green. “I’ve learned more in the last six years about what I consider to be true horsemanship than in the 34 years before that,” she says. “It’s molding me into a much better horseman.”
And as much as extreme cowboy racing is a competition, it’s also a watering hole of sorts, where competitors become friends and cheer on one another. “When we attend the EXCA [Extreme Cowboy Association] World Championship each year, it’s like a big family reunion,” says Green. “We’re all there to compete and are serious about wanting to do our best, but we also want our fellow competitors to do their best. I think this is a unique aspect to racing with the EXCA.”
Camaraderie is one of the reasons Dennis Tipton, an extreme cowboy racing competitor of five years, has stuck with the sport. “We’ve made good friends with people from all over, and most of us keep up with one another on Facebook,” he says.
What It’s All About
Although it’s called “extreme” cowboy racing, don’t let the name scare you off.
“I think sometimes people get overwhelmed at the idea of extreme cowboy racing,” says Green. “They think they will have to do crazy obstacles. In reality, the obstacles themselves are not extreme. Safety is paramount for both the rider and the horse.”
Green adds that for some people, it’s not even about being competitive. A lot of participants use the events to cross-train their horses. “They say it helps keep their horses fresh and reduces the overuse factor for them, so their horses perform better in their main disciplines,” she explains. “It doesn’t have to be all about qualifying for the world championship.” Extreme cowboy racing is even fun for the whole family. Green and her three children enjoy training for and competing in races together.
Ready, Set, Go!
So, you’re intrigued. How do you get started?
“Just do it!” says Green. She suggests attending a race to get a feel for what the sport is like, reading the rulebook online, and socializing with other competitors on the Extreme Cowboy Association Facebook page.
Tipton emphasizes the importance of establishing solid groundwork skills and progressing from there. Even leading your horse can be part of an obstacle. Attending a professional extreme cowboy racing clinic can be beneficial as well.
But, you probably need a highly trained equine athlete, right?
Nope! Green says you just want a horse with a willing attitude that doesn’t easily spook and can rate his speed. “You need a horse that is athletic and able to learn new skills if necessary, like rollbacks, sidepassing, changing leads and backing,” she adds. “The horse doesn’t have to be a master at any of these skills when you begin racing in EXCA, but you will want to add them to your ‘toolbox’ so that you’ll be more prepared for competition.”
And breed doesn’t matter in extreme cowboy racing, either, which Tipton says is one of the many positive aspects of the sport. “There are competitors that win on different types of horses,” he says. “You can really take any horse.”
Good horsemanship is the major focus of extreme cowboy racing. “You will hear ‘soft hands, loose reins, nice collection and position’ when you are watching and listening to the announcers at a competition,” says Green.
To ready yourself and your horse for extreme cowboy racing, Green says to just get out there and ride. “You can’t expect to build trust and skills unless you ride your horse!” she explains. “Make obstacles at home and try them. Anything can be an obstacle: logs, PVC pipe, barrels, tarps, branches, your trailer, cones or buckets. Just keep it safe and sturdy.” The EXCA rulebook outlines all of the obstacles you might find at a competition so that you can simulate and practice them at home.
In the end, Tipton says that if you finish a course with a smile on your face and a sense of accomplishment, then nothing else matters. Extreme cowboy racing is a competition, but it’s also about making friends and strengthening your relationship with your horse.
To learn more about the sport, visit the Extreme Cowboy Association at www.extremecowboyassociation.com.
This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!