It was a day for Wild West riders Saturday when the Georgia State Championship Extreme Cowboy Race came to the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center in Gainesville.
More than 40 riders from across the Southeast competed for points with hopes of qualifying for the world finals set for November in Texas.
The Extreme Cowboy Association was formed in 2008 by Craig Cameron after the public took interest in a challenge on his RFD-TV show, “Ride Smart.” Today, the association has roughly 1,500 members competing in 17 regions across the United States and Canada. The Southern Obstacle Challenge Association is the local division in its second year at the Ag Center.
Extreme cowboy racing is a timed event that challenges both horse and rider to maneuver through a series of obstacles resembling those a cowboy might encounter out on the trail. Some of Saturday’s obstacles included a water crossing, opening and closing a gate, jumping over raised poles, and walking over a teeter-totter.
Each competition consists of eight divisions, allowing access for a wide range of ages and skill levels. Riders are judged on their horsemanship skills, as well as how well the horse approaches, navigates, and exits an obstacle.
For rider Cindy Hahn and her Quarter Horse Eli, Saturday’s competition was their first time at an EXCA event.
“I’m competing in the Novice, Intermediate and Ride Smart (55 and over) divisions. I’ve trail ridden for years and worked obstacles in an arena before, but this is my first time doing anything like this,” Hahn said. “It’s so much fun, though. It’s a great way to keep your horse’s mind fresh, whether you’re used to trail riding or riding in an arena. Eli is only 4 years old, so it’s a great learning experience for him, too.”
Others, such as Pro rider Jason Hiser and his BLM Mustang Delgado, have more experience on the circuit.
“I recently had the huge honor of competing in the Cowboy Up Challenge at the Calgary Stampede,” Hiser said. “That’s like the Super Bowl of cowboy racing, because it’s only open to the top 10 in the world. The course is very different depending on the level you are competing at, and to compete at that level feels like trying to fly an F16 in a gym; you have to ride at a very fast pace with not much room between obstacles.”
Jason’s daughter, Casey Hiser, is also an EXCA competitor. At 13, she competes in the Youth and Intermediate divisions on Faith, a Mustang she trained herself.
“That’s the thing I love about cowboy racing, it’s a sport that truly anyone can do,” Jason Hiser said.
Joe Holloway, an Intermediate and Ride Smart competitor, agreed.
“If anyone wants to get into horses, this would be a great sport for them to try. I got into cowboy racing when I was 72 and I’m 80 now,” he said. “These riders are like a family. Normally, when you think of a competition, you don’t think of competitors cheering one another on, but that’s exactly what we do.”