A dying art will be on display at the Inter-State Fair and Rodeo this weekend. Two of the world’s best trick riders will showcase their unique skills Friday and Saturday night.
Lindy Nealey and Haley Ganzel are called ‘The Cowgirl Sweethearts.’ It’s dainty name for two trick riders who are daredevils in the arena.
“Trick riding is...we're doing gymnastics on horses, just at very high speeds,” Ganzel said.
It’s a sport that takes strength, a lot of practice and even more courage.
“These are our best friends,” Nealey said. “Not too many other people can say they put their life in their horses’ hands.”
Nealey and Ganzel are two of the best trick riders in the world.
“We will be dragging off the side, we'll be standing up, she'll be doing flips. It's pretty much just acrobatics...on horses,” Ganzel said.
They perform the complicated acrobatic moves while their horses gallop around the arena at about 30 miles per hour.
“I'll spin around up here and jump back off and back on,” Nealey said showing us how it’s done.
She is also a Roman rider - that’s where she uses two horses and stands with one foot on each horse, weaving through fire and jumping hurdles.
Nealey started trick riding at age 10 in her hometown of Bloomington, Illinois.
“I actually lucked into it. A lady about 30 miles from where I grew up was teaching a group,” Nealey said. “She had some girls that were going on the road with her and I thought it was the coolest thing to be part of the group.”
Ganzel is an Oklahoma native. She grew up in Collinsville and is now a junior at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, where she’s studying to be a special education teacher.
“That's something I want to do in the future, but right now this is what I want to do in the present,” Ganzel said. “This is our dream.”
Ganzel has been trick riding for 16 years. She started when she was just 5 years old, by sneaking out and working with her uncle’s horse, Sisco. It’s the horse she still rides today.
“He's 22 this year, so he's actually a year older than me,” Ganzel said. “He's been around the world and back but he's still enjoying going.”
On Friday Ganzel dressed in Native American buckskin dress. She’s proud to share her Cherokee heritage during her shows. She and her horse perform a Trail of Tears reenactment.
Ganzel said, “It's a really cool, detailed act, it's just something that's a little different in the rodeo world.”
Both Ganzel and Nealey were featured in the movie ‘Cowgirls ‘n Angels’ and its sequel.
The Cowgirl Sweethearts don't just entertain; they also compete in arenas all over the country.
Nealey just qualified to compete in the world trick riding championship. Ganzel will compete to do the same in a few weeks. She won the youth world championship in 2007.
“We're on the road constantly, but it's what we love,” Ganzel said.
It's a love they hope spreads to a younger generation to keep the legacy of trick riding alive.
The trick riders will perform a few times each during the rodeo Friday and Saturday. You can find more information here.