Written by Kerrie Alexander
The Fraser Coast has a new champion with young equestrian star Elani North recently named Extreme Cowboy Racing Australian National Youth Champion plus Australian National Youth Reserve Champion.
This is her story …
Sitting on the verandah of the family’s acreage property, a young Elani North sat quietly for minutes patting a gecko that had wandered on to her lap.
Mum Janeen said she remembers the moment well, watching on in awe while taking a photo, but she wasn’t surprised that such a skittish animal found trust in her daughter who was a toddler at the time.
Elani, now 13, has had an affinity with animals from a young age and spoke passionately to Alive about one day becoming a vet and opening a pet shelter for all animals, great and small.
The family farm has about 15 head of cattle, six dogs; two of them working dogs and the others a part of Janeen’s pet therapy business. An adoration of animals is in the genes.
“Animals would just come to her,” Janeen said.
“That gecko was happy to just there and be patted. All these animals would just turn up and just want to be with her … it was quite interesting,” she said with a laugh.
Then there’s Elani’s much-loved horses.
She first followed in mum’s footsteps and jumped in the saddle at seven years old, rode at Pony Club, tried Western Dressage and is a part of the Aldridge High School Equestrian Team, which Janeen manages.
But starting to compete on the Extreme Cowboy Racing competition circuit three years ago is where Elani truly found her niche.
It is one of the fastest growing equine sports in the world and has become an international phenomenon thanks to founder and cowboy Craig Cameron who is known as one of the finest horsemen in the United States.
However, the sport is not quite as the name suggests and you don’t have to be a cowboy or cowgirl to compete.
It’s fast-paced, yes, but what’s most important said Janeen, is the relationship and bond you have with your horse.
Designed to put the rider’s horsemanship skills to the test, Extreme Cowboy Racing involves an intense obstacle course that riders have to navigate with style.
To do so, a trusting relationship with their horse is essential.
“It’s called cowboy racing, but we have an issue with that term,” Janeen said.
“You do have to go quickly but more importantly it is your horsemanship skill and your horse’s willingness to work with you that matters.
“You have to have a good relationship with your horse, so they trust you and go through it.
“It’s a lot of work but it’s a wonderful sport, it’s fun and Elani really enjoys it.”
The obstacles on course generally represent the tasks and challenges faced on a working ranch (farm) – crossing water or a narrow bridge, dragging a log, carrying a bucket of water or a tarp, jumping over an obstacle, or grabbing the outer edge of a carousel-style obstacle and making it turn.
Janeen and Elani say they have to get creative at home while training because you don’t find out what’s on the course until you’re in the arena.
“We used our clothes line at one point as an obstacle,” Janeen said.
“You have to grab the outside spoke and walk and trot around like a carousel … I did that bare back,” Elani said with a cheeky laugh.
“They surprise you! You don’t get to know the course until you turn up on the day, so you have to be ready for anything really.”
Scores are given for each obstacle on the course and consist of three components – the approach to the obstacle; the obstacle itself; the departure from the obstacle.
You are scored on not only riding through each obstacle successfully, but on the way it is done.
So, the looser the contact on the reins and the calmer the horse, the better!
This is where Elani’s relationship with her chestnut quarter horse mare named Jilly comes in.
“I’m really lucky to have the horse that I do. Sometimes she might not want to do it but if I ask again, she’ll be like, okay, here we go,” Elani said.
“I enjoy (EXCR) the most because you have the challenge of the obstacles and the chance to be able to go fast, plus have that connection with your horse.
“We train about three times a week; I’ll catch her, we do some groundwork, we do some transitions for speed and basic skills like side passing and backing up.
“We also do training days with Southern Cross Xtreme Cowboy Racing in Maryborough.”
Janeen said she often jokes that the two are a match made in heaven with Elani having red hair and chestnut’s being known for their fiery temperament.
“Elani and her horse have the same hair colour and chestnut mares have a reputation for being cheeky and little bit hard to handle, so I’ve made comment that Elani being a teenager and her horse are quite a good combination,” she laughed.
All humour aside, the two ride like one awesome unit and the proof is in the prizes.
Elani and her mare have been making waves on the competition circuit this year after recently being named the Queensland Youth Champion, which qualified them for the national competition in Ballarat.
“The first time I went to state, I came second and the person who beat me got the buckle and I said to mum, I’m going to get one of those.
“The next state came along, and I got one … then we got to nationals in Ballarat, and it was a bit far away, but mum drove me anyway.”
The three-week turnaround of travelling with the float from Bauple to Victoria for the competition was well worth the effort after Elani was named National Youth Champion, Australian National Youth Champion, plus Australian National Youth Reserve Champion after riding a friend’s horse in a “wild card” round.
The Champion Youth Buckles now have pride of place at home.
“It was mainly for the experience, and we didn’t really expect anything so to come away as the Australian National Youth Champion was pretty mind-blowing,” Janeen said.
“I feel like I should thank mum for the amount of time, effort and money she spent on me just to get the buckles and some ribbons,” Elani added.
But mum – knowing there’s far more to the sport than just winning – was quick to chime in.
“It’s not about that though … it’s about the experience and about the life lessons that you learn.
“There’s so much more to it than just walking away with a ribbon.
“Horses teach resilience, hard work, about failing; being able to get up and have another go if you’ve fallen off a few times and try again. You practice you get better.
“These are all the things you need in the world to get by.
“You have to be resilient; you have to be strong; you have to be focused and goal orientated if you want to get to where you want to be.”
Natasha Webber, President of Maryborough’s Southern Cross Xtreme Cowboy Racing Club, said Elani had worked incredibly hard to reach her goals since joining the club in 2019.
“To be able to witness this young lady attend clinics, club days and competitions, and to see her apply all she has learnt, has been a joy,” Natasha said.
“Elani is a keen rider, wanting to improve herself and her horsemanship every time she rides.
“As club President, I am so proud to be a part of Elani’s journey in Extreme Cowboy Racing.
“She is always willing to lend a hand and super keen to learn, and she has assisted with scribing while I judge; this is the perfect opportunity to learn more about this awesome sport of ours.
“Reach for the stars, Elani!”
To find out more about your local club visit the Southern Cross Xtreme Cowboy Racing Facebook page.