When Connie Larsen is competing on her Quarter Horses Tig and Ace, she feels that she and her mount are one.

“I feel empowered and connected,” says Larsen, 64, who is an Extreme Cowboy racer who’s heading to the 2024 Extreme Cowboy World Championship in Glen Rose, Texas this fall, competing in the Non-Pro and Ride Smart (55-plus) divisions. She also hopes to compete as a wild card entry in the Cowboy Up Challenge at the Calgary Stampede this summer.

The sport of Extreme Cowboy racing began as a way to enhance the horse and rider connection, with an emphasis on horsemanship skills while navigating ranch- and trail-based obstacles. According to Extreme Cowboy Alberta, riders and horses compete in a timed obstacle event with up to 13 obstacles which are rated by difficulty and include everything from gates, bridges, water boxes (liverpool), to low jumps and teeter-totters. The Extreme Cowboy Association in Texas lists some of the more unusual obstacles such as archery shooting, tarp dragging, trailer loading, riding past flares, pistol shooting, roping livestock, and going through tunnels and water sprinklers!

There are also technical components such as performing lead changes, side passes, spins, rollbacks and turns on the wall. Competitors are scored on each obstacle, overall time, and horsemanship.

You’ll see horses from just about every breed in Extreme Cowboy events, as well as mules and Shetland ponies. Competitors accumulate points in every race, and the top 60 per cent of competitors in every class qualify for the Worlds.

“If you trust in your horse, then you can do this,” Larsen says. “It’s all about the connection. The stronger your connection with your mount, the easier it gets.”

Larsen and her husband, Darrell, are semi-retired farmers in southern Alberta’s Wheatland County, about an hour’s drive east of Calgary. The family works with their cattle on horseback; most of their horses were ranch horses first, then competitive show horses. Larsen started doing Cowboy challenge-type events 10 years ago and began competing in Extreme Cowboy events — “a higher level of competition” — in 2017, after watching daughter-in-law Steph Larsen compete.

Connie rode Tig, a “fantastic, fearless” Quarter Horse, to ninth place in the Novice division at the 2018 Extreme Cowboy World Championship, and to sixth place in the Intermediate division in 2021. She bought another Quarter Horse, Ace, two years ago, as a backup to Tig, and will ride both Ace and Tig in the 2024 World Championship.

Darrell is a stalwart support for Connie in her racing. “We are a team,” she says. “It takes the whole family to get to shows and compete.”

A horse and rider dragging a bag.

Connie and Ace pulling a drag. (Karen Rice Photography)

In addition to the competitive aspect of Extreme Cowboy, Larsen enjoys the people who are a part of it. “We are like a large extended family,” says Larsen, who is a member of both Alberta clubs that are affiliated with the Extreme Cowboy Association (EXCA): Extreme Cowboy Alberta and Xtreme Wild Rose.

In addition to races, Extreme Cowboy Alberta puts on play days and clinics. Many members who aren’t necessarily interested in competing come out, alongside competitors. Play Days are a safe place to try some of the Extreme Cowboy obstacles, and Play Days help make riders and horses more solid for trail riding, Larsen explains.

“Next year, I’m going to have the distinct pleasure of having our first granddaughter, Clara, competing. I feel privileged to have three generations competing in different classes (Larsen, son Dustin, his wife Steph, and their daughter Clara). “This sport feeds my body, mind, and soul. I look forward to riding and competing for many years to come.”

“It’s a sport for anybody that loves horses and loves competition,” says Extreme Cowboy Alberta chairman Blake Wickland, who races in the Intermediate and Non-Pro categories. “It’s one of the most well-rounded equestrian sports. It’s why EXCA founder Craig Cameron built this sport. He wanted these horses to be good at all the disciplines. It’s really trying to bring back these real well-rounded ranch horses.”

Extreme Cowboy Alberta has approximately 70 members ranging in age from eight years to the 70s (Rick Wickland, Blake’s father and past chair of Extreme Cowboy Alberta, is the oldest racing member at age 68). Extreme Cowboy Alberta is an affiliated club with the Extreme Cowboy Association (EXCA), which is based in Texas. In Canada, there are Extreme Cowboy clubs in Alberta, Ontario and BC, while EXCA has member clubs around the world, including in Australia, Europe and Israel.

Extreme Cowboy clubs in Alberta have produced multiple world champions, and the oldest competitor in Extreme Cowboy Association’s history came from Alberta: Doris Heintz, who competed at the Worlds when she was 83 years old and was a 2017 EXCA Hall of Fame inductee.

Extreme Cowboy Alberta holds events throughout the year and “We always welcome spectators to come out,” Blake Wickland says. Who knows, they may be inspired to take up this exciting sport, too!


A family portrait at a western show.

It’s a family affair at Aggie Days 2024 (l-r) Ashlee, Morgan, Darrell, Ace, Connie, L’il Gal with Brooke in saddle, Dustin, Alexa, Clara, Steph, Missy Unicorn. (Karen Rice Photography)