Calgary – Taking in the sights and sounds of the Calgary Stampede with your best friend is a treasured tradition for many people attending the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. Experiencing it as you compete against each other in a daredevil event on horseback is a much rarer event, however.

Kelsie Graham and Leanne Hale did just that, though, in this year’s Cowboy Up Challenge. The floor of the Scotiabank Saddledome is a fair distance from an outdoor arena in Tennessee, where the pair met while competing in their first extreme cowboy event in 2009.

“I’ve been hooked since that first event,” said Graham, a 24-year-old from Smyrna, Tenn. who is studying to become a pharmacist. “It’s different every single time. You’re not just doing barrels, or roping over and over. It’s always a challenge.”

Held over the course of three days, the event culminated Monday at the Saddledome. The Cowboy Up Challenge, sanctioned by the Extreme Cowboy Association (EXCA), is a head-turning spectacle of horsemanship, heart-pounding challenges and pure entertainment. Rider and mount navigated 13 obstacles, ranging from a teeter-totter bridge to a gate to water challenges. They were marked on a scale of 1 to 10 at each obstacle, and time also counted towards their overall mark.

The 10 riders at the invitational event all have World or National Champion Buckles, calling cards for competing for a share of the $25,000 purse. Cypress County, Alta.’s Jim Anderson took home $8,000 and the Champion belt buckle as the winner of the sudden-death final on Monday, nudging out Missouri’s Joshua Rushing who earned $4,500 as the Reserve Champion.

“In a Cowboy Up horse, one of the things they need is heart. They need also confidence and trust in you. They need to move their feet really fast, but they also need to let their feet down and relax and stand,” said Anderson, who got hooked on the sport after watching it at the Stampede in 2010. “That is the confidence and trust. They have to have that trust in you.”

And how confident was Anderson going into that final run? After all, he’d won two previous Cowboy Up titles, so he knew the daunting combination of speed and horsemanship required to bring it all home.

“I was very confident. My mare (Marilyn Monroe) has just gotten better every time I come in here. She is just an excellent horse. I knew she was going to be with me. I just had to go through the course.”

While Hale has entered the Stampede’s Cowboy Up before, this was the first time out of the gate here for Graham. The women said their friendship is echoed in how their fellow riders treat each other, on the course and off.

“Everyone is there is to help you. They are not there to sabotage anyone. They’ll point out challenges in the course or offer advice on how to approach an obstacle,” said Hale, a pharmacist from Tullahoma, Tenn. “Leanne and I want the best for each other. And that also includes everybody that’s competing.”

Full results can be found at

About the Calgary Stampede

The Calgary Stampede celebrates the people, the animals, the land, the traditions and the values that make up the unique spirit of the west.  The Calgary Stampede contributes to the quality of life in Calgary and southern Alberta through our world-renowned 10-day Stampede, year-round facilities, western events and several youth and agriculture programs. Exemplifying the theme We’re Greatest Together; we are a volunteer-supported, not-for-profit community organization that preserves and promotes western heritage and values.  All revenue is reinvested into Calgary Stampede programs and facilities.

For more information, please contact:

Kristina Barnes

Communications Manager, Western Events and Agriculture

Calgary Stampede

T. 403.261.0382

C. 403.585.4706