Rising to the Occasion
By BILL BORGWARDT
The thrilling demonstration sport of trick riding has enthralled audiences for centuries.
Roman gladiators used to ride around the coliseum astride two horses, the Russian Cossacks were known for their riding prowess, and trick riding was a staple of the Buffalo Bill and other Wild West shows. Canada’s most famous trick rider was a female, Florence “Flores” LaDue (1883-1951), who, along with her husband, Guy Weadick, helped found the Calgary Stampede in 1912, where she won the World Trick Riding Championship.
The sport continues today, and in Alberta, many rodeo fans have had the chance to witness the amazing harmony between horse and rider and the daring and athletic ability of a new pair of young trick riding ladies, the Daring Divas.
During the past couple of summers, including 14 shows during the shortened 2021 season, fourteen-year-old Tavi Pickles of Castor, on her horse Flash, and recently turned fourteen-year-old Hardisty resident Kloe Holte on Pep, have amazed rodeo fans from St Paul, Alta., to Chilliwack, B.C., and all points in between. Kloe has been trick riding since she was six, and Tavi began when she was eight. The girls are both members of the Canadian Trick Riding Association and train in Wainwright under Amber Miller, part of the well-known Graham Sister trick riding team that entertained rodeo audiences for many years.
Both girls have competed in various competitions, trading first and second place.
It takes serious training and conditioning for both the riders and the horses to race around the arena with the rider hanging in various positions on the side of the horse. It starts with training the horse to run the course riderless. Once the horse knows what it’s expected to do, it is not distracted by the rider’s actions. The only thing the rider has to worry about is their gymnastics, although occasionally, they will speak to the horse to keep it focused.
The sport also isn’t without its casualties, though. Kloe has broken a leg, and Tavi has suffered a concussion, but it’s all part of being a thrill rider. It’s also hard on the horses, dealing with weight transfers that would never occur in normal riding situations, but their muscles are kept supple with special therapy. Melissa Marshal of Good Vibrations Wellness provides Magna Wave PEMF (pulsed electromagnetic fields) treatment during the performance season.
Trick riding also requires special saddles. Wade Ertman of Onoway, Alta., custom builds the saddles used by both girls. The horses are also decked in colourful show masks, usually matching the colour of the rider’s costumes. Technically, these masks serve no special purpose other than for show, but the horses know that it’s time for a performance once the masks are put on.
With the 2022 rodeo season back in full swing, the Daring Divas already have numerous bookings in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Watch for them at your local rodeo or check the schedule for the Daring Divas Trick Riding Team on Facebook.