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Alberta girl wins world title in first extreme cowboy racing competition


Not even two years into her horseback riding career, a Leduc, Alta., girl has won her first world title.

After three days of riding in Texas at the beginning of November, Sophie Garrington was crowned the Extreme Cowboy Association's 2023 world champion in her age category, for kids aged seven to 11, called "young guns."

"I was super excited and shocked," Sophie recalled in a recent interview.

Extreme cowboy racing is a demonstration of both a rider's and horse's skills. As they navigate an obstacle course, the pair earn points for the obstacle's difficulty, horsemanship, and speed.

Having missed seeing some of the other young gun competitors, Sophie hadn't been sure what she and her horse Buddy were up against.

"I expected maybe second or third because it was OK. It was a really good run, there was just a few things," she told CTV News Edmonton.

As her coach Nicole Hirsekorn from Star Struck Horsemanship put it, Sophie is "very dedicated."

"She'll go over and over her videos and try to figure out where she can make little improvements."

So when her name was called in Texas, "I was shocked," Sophie said. "It was weird."

The 2023 competition season was the 10-year-old's first. In January 2024, she'll have been riding for two years.

Hirsekorn said it is rare for such an inexperienced rider to do so well at the highest level of competition.

"She's a very good rider and the horse is amazing. He takes care of her."

Sophie's mom, Darcey Garrington, added, "We expected that she'd just do it for the fun of it – which she does. But in the meantime, she and the horses, they've meshed so well and they work so well together as a team that she's done a lot better than we ever thought and gone a lot further than we thought she would go in such a short time."

She estimated Sophie spends about 12 hours in lessons or practice a week, either with Hirsekorn or her dad.

"He puts in a lot of time with her here at the barn, at least three or four days a week… He's like an Olympic Dad," Garrington joked.

Of first learning how to ride, Sophie recalled, "I was definitely pretty scared because they're pretty tall and I was pretty young and short."

But now, she describes the saddle atop Buddy a place of comfort.

"He's cute so I like to give him snuggles."

Sophie's progress has been a ride of its own for her parents.

"For the first year, the training, it was kind of like watching paint dry because it was just circles," Garrington said.

"Now it makes me a little nervous… When I'm videoing her, she goes past me so fast that it's just like a speeding bullet. I can't understand how fast she goes and how she's comfortable with it."

Sophie plans to compete again in 2024, but she's also looking ahead a few years: "Next goal is the Calgary Stampede, but you have to be 14 to get there."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Evan Kenny Top Stories

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