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The Calamity Cowgirls

Posted 9/29/15 (Tue)

The Calamity Cowgirls

By Sydney Glasoe Caraballo
The girl dangles upside down suspended in a mid-cartwheel arc off the side of her horse as her hands skim the same ground his front hooves just graced.
Cashlyn Krecklau, and her blue roan quarter horse, Thumper, acrobat across the arena at a dead gallop while showcasing the suicide drag during a trick riding performance given by the Calamity Cowgirls in Estevan, Sask., on Thursday night. Krecklau, 12, is the youngest rider and only American on the four-person team. Krecklau’s teammates include Carlee Ross, 13, and her sister, Cassidy Ross, 15, along with Marci LeBlanc, 13, all of rural Estevan.
The Calamity Cowgirls, whose video on Facebook has attracted more than 7,500 hits, are getting calls of interest from regional agricultural expos, horse exhibitions and rodeos in both the United States and Canada. 
Trick riding, which involves a rider performing stunts on a running horse, is a dangerous yet beautiful endeavor guaranteed to draw crowds. Both the rider and horse must coordinate agility, power, flexibility and balance during a dance of movements where it is the horse not the rider controlling the lead.
The American paint horse known as Royal – a black beauty with white socks and one blue and one brown eye – sprints underneath LeBlanc as she grips the saddle horn, vaults onto the ground with both feet bouncing on the arena sand to propel herself back on to her horse, not once but twice. Carlee Ross performs a side backbend and her sister, Cassidy, the back breaker. Krecklau, clad in a red satin jumpsuit, glides into the superman (stroud layout) alongside Thumper. Her horse – wearing a red sequined facemask and red glitter sparkling his rump – flies past. The crowd gasps and then roars with approval and perhaps relief after every trick.
“It’s the best feeling ever,” says Krecklau, whose parents are Jamison and Holly Krecklau of rural Noonan. “Hearing the crowd cheer us all on -- it’s amazing.”
The girls, who plan on attending college and imagine other careers than trick riding, still want to see just where this ride will take them.
“They’re still girls,” Holly says. “We don’t want to burn them out, but they’re determined. They really have a desire to do this and be good.”
Their fans are impressed with their actions in and outside of the arena. Children from the audience swarm the young riders and their horses after the show to ask questions, pet the horses and take pictures with the Calamity Cowgirls. The 150 autograph cards the girls bring with them to sign quickly run out. 
But two years ago autographs and requests to perform would have been a mere daydream as the girls rode horseback stuck behind plodding cattle on their families’ ranches. With parents who farm and ranch, the girls were riding horses by the time they could walk. 
“They’ve all screwed around on their horses since they were little,” says Holly, while explaining the girls have grown up together and have helped each other’s families with cattle drives and brandings. 
“You’d look back, and one of the girls would be standing on her horse and another hanging off the side.”
Krecklau begged her parents to let her become a trick rider for several years after watching the sport on television. Holly says there weren’t any local trick riders, much less coaches in North Dakota or southern Saskatchewan. Just before Krecklau turned 11, the Rosses learned that well-known trick rider, Laura (Lausen) Melle, had moved to Estevan. Melle, who trained at the renowned Jerri Duce Phillips Trick Riding School in Oakatoks, Alberta, agreed to give a lesson to the girls for Krecklau’s birthday.
Most kids and their horses don’t last beyond a few lessons, according to Melle.
The girls’ horses were unproven, but they all brought quarter horses and a paint to their first practice. Quarter horses and paints are known as sprinters, well-muscled and bursting with speed. The breeds’ athleticism also helps to counterbalance its weight against the weight of the rider.
Personality matters too.
“Bombproof is what I look for,” Melle says. “You need to be able to light a fire under that horse, and it will still stand there.”
Holly remembers those first practices; while the girls experienced the adrenaline rush, she was on the ground holding her breath. She was grateful for Melle’s focus on safety. All the girls have fallen off their horses, but none have been injured so far.
Melle, who teaches safety first and foremost, watched the girls closely those first practices and was pleased. Their riding skills were good. They were athletes, participating in sports ranging from basketball to hockey to rodeo. They were dedicated (the girls would tell you that trick riding practices beat herding cows on horseback any day).
“You have to be a bit of an adrenaline junky,” Melle says. “These girls are always laughing and smiling. They are competitive and keep each other motivated.”
And they are friends.
Texting, face time and sleepovers are commonplace. The girls are on a first-name basis with border patrol agents on both sides. Entering Canada, the border patrol agent is stern until the trick riding performance is mentioned.
“Cashlyn has a lot of fans heading to the show tonight,” she says with a smile. “’We see her every week. She’s pretty dedicated.”
 “You’re with your horse and your friends,” says Krecklau of the grueling practices and weekly trips across the border. “I love it.”
To Melle, the girls’ friendship may be what mattered most as the girls met weekly for nearly two years before she decided they were ready for their first performance.
The art of performing requires much more than staying on the saddle (or off).
“You’re banging against the saddle and tack. Trick riding is painful by nature,” Melle says. “You have to smile and hold that trick – make the difficult look easy.”
She adds that trust and communication between rider and horse is learned and developed over time. The horse must learn its pattern by heart; both rider and horse must exercise precision for each trick.
The song “God Made Girls” by RaeLynn begins to play as the Calamity Cowgirls and their horses bow.
Later, several little girls beg the trick riders to do just a few more tricks as they sign autographs. And they do. Under the night sky and rodeo lights.
LeBlanc stands tall in the saddle, performing the hippodrome, as Krecklau dangles below in her dead man drag. Their double trick is one they are still trying to perfect; it is difficult and dangerous. In this moment, though, they seem effortless, personifying grace and power far beyond their years.
As Thumper reaches the gate, the crowd’s cheering grows distant. The girls look at each other, flush-cheeked and giddy, as Marci whispers fiercely: ”Cashlyn, can you believe it? We really did it!”