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Dixie Outlaws Memphis Showdown


By Gary Cox; photos by Gary & Carol Cox

For the second year in a row, the Dixie Outlaws, an EXCA (Extreme Cowboy Association) club, brought their Memphis Showdown to the Show Place Arena in Memphis, Tenn. the first weekend in May 4-5, 2019.

The weekend’s theme was Cinco de Mayo, thus the courses were set up with a Mexican theme. On Saturday, if you were to look at the indoor course from the air, it spelled MEXICO. The courses were different for Saturday and Sunday. In one part of the course, the horse had to travel between two taco shells and, on Sunday at the finals, the horse had to travel through the taco shells sideways! 

Prior to the show on Friday May 3, the Dixie Outlaws hosted a clinic with head judge Lee Hart. Hart has won multiple championships, dating back to 1997, including EXCA Pro and Futurity World Champion, WRCA Top Hand, and Bronc Rider World Champion. Riders in the clinic were instructed on all aspects of extreme cowboy racing, and it was a perfect opportunity to learn the “ins” and “outs” of the sport from someone who knows it well. Hart designed all the courses at this event, and is also one of the judges.  

The courses were quite complicated, so judges would walk the participants through the course before the race started to explain what each one should do and the sequence in which to do it.

Cheryl Moore described what the judges look for at an EXCA event:

“In an Extreme Cowboy Association Race, a judge is looking for an equine that is attentive, ears forward, engaged in the competition, and responds to the rider’s cues. The rider’s cues should be subtle. The equine should make a smooth transition to an obstacle and navigate the obstacle without losing momentum, finishing the obstacle stronger than starting it.

“The rider should have loose reins and the obstacles should be completed, demonstrating confidence and trust, not force. It is also a race, so the equine and rider team should take every advantage to save time on the course by effective use of speed, taking legal shortcuts on the course, and attacking obstacles while in control.

The objective is to quickly conquer the obstacles, while making something that is challenging to others, look easy. Speed with control are the keys to success.”

In talking with many of the participants, I asked them what they wanted to accomplish. One described it as trying to exercise control of the horse while making it look easy and keeping it consistent throughout the race.  Even though the race was timed, I was told it was more important to perform at all the obstacles correctly than try to reach the finish line in a short time. 

There were all ages were at this event, and categories for young and old, beginners and pros, so everyone could fit in somewhere.  Interestingly, one participant, who is 74 years old, said he started riding in his early 50s, so it’s never too late to learn. One participant said this was her first time for such an event, while others have been at it for a while.  Several participants were from Australia!

I asked one of the young participants, who has been doing this for five years, how she controlled her horse so well. I learned that it is important that the rider and horse have a good relationship; however, it is important that the horse knows that the rider is boss. You want to make it look easy to travel the course with little or no struggle with the horse, so communication between the rider and horse is very important.

One rider said that she can signal her horse to stop simply by how set she sits back in the saddle. I asked her if I were to ride her horse, would I be able to control the horse similarly to how she does.  She said probably not, as the horse might not understand me. While I could do the basics, only she and her horse have that tight relationship in which they understand each other to the extent that they can do all the tasks required in these courses.   

I learned that while attempting to stop a horse, these riders say it is important the rider is leaned back in their saddle, and the horse should stop with its back legs.  A stop in which the rider is leaning forward and the horse is using its front legs is the wrong way to do it, and points will be deducted.

Also holding the reins lightly is important to the judges.  Riders had a variety of reins, from short to long, and their hold was either two handed or one hand – all by rider preference. The judge was just looking for the loose reins in judging each participant. 

Any breed of horse was welcome at this event, as the challenge is making it through all the obstacles correctly and in the least amount of time.  At a sanctioned EXCA event, the obstacles usually simulate things that you would routinely encounter on a trail ride or daily work on a ranch. 

This was the first obstacle course I have seen that was so detailed and complicated. Although I have seen other events with obstacles setup, where the rider must show skill in completing the course and tasks, these courses were much more detailed and extensive. The time and training that they put into this has to be extensive, and I was impressed how well all the riders did at the event.  

This was a very enjoyable event.  If I had a horse, this is what I would want to do. I wouldn’t care if I won or even did it all right. I would be happy just to make it from start to finish! I also considered what the horse may be thinking, such as why would I want to walk sideways between two tacos?

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