Calgary teen rides to unforgettable 2nd-place finish at Calgary Stampede
It’s a night Ariana Gray will never forget, a once in a lifetime performance on a stage bigger than her wildest dreams.
“Holding that Canadian flag when the crowd just lost it, I just thought, ‘This is so cool,’” Gray said. “Competing in my hometown is more than I could have asked for.”
The 17-year-old earned a berth in the Calgary Stampede‘s Cowboy Up Challenge after winning her division at the Extreme Cowboy World Championships back in November.
Despite attending the event more than a dozen times as a child, Gray never saw herself competing at that level.
“It was just too big, you know?” Gray said. “I thought I could never be part of that. Goes to show you can never say never!”
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Up against the top pros from across the world, the amateur soared to a second-place finish at the Stampede on Thursday night.
“When I was watching everyone do their runs I had no idea what the placing was going to be,” Gray recalled. “Everyone was having killer rides, no one was messing up anywhere. When they said third place and my name still hadn’t been called… it was amazing.”
Extreme cowboy showcases both horse and rider as they race through an obstacle course. Each obstacle demonstrates the horse’s agility and the rider’s horsemanship skills.
For Gray and her horse Laska, the bond runs deep.
“We zone in on each other when we’re going that fast,” Gray said. “Our bond is so strong that before I even think of something, she knows exactly what I want.
“At the start of the ride, she is so excited. She loves to run. She really hunts for the obstacles and attacks the course.”
Gray is taking home $5,000 for placing second.
The Gray family is still celebrating after Ariana\’s big night.
Now she’s packing up to head to Texas A&M for her first year of university with a scholarship to join the equestrian team.
She’s come a long way from being a little girl eager to start trail-riding with her mom.
‘She rode her best rides ever under such pressure,” Christine Gray said. “That’s got to be one of her biggest strengths in life. She performed so well under such pressure against pro riders.”
And she’ll have the chance to do it again.
Gray has an open invite to return to the competition next year, but, for now, she’s still basking in the glow of an unforgettable ride.
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