Trixie Chicks Trick Riders know how to capture an audience with their unique performances

When the Trixie Chicks Trick Riders gallop into an arena the audience holds its breath, mouths drop and eyes pop wide. The stunts these riders accomplish make even their own parents nervous, really nervous. “My parents have only been to two or three performances,” admitted Ashlee Hearod. With stunts called “Suicide Drag,” “Under the Neck,” and “Full fender,” who could blame them? The Trixie Chicks Trick Riders may sound like a group of daredevils looking for a thrill but this is not the case. The riders are all Missouri State University students or recent graduates with a deep love for horses and a burning passion for pushing the limits. “It is such an unique sport. It is so challenging and I wanted to be a part of something that not many people do as their sport,” said Katy Tennison.
The Trixie Chicks started in 2010 when long-time equestrian drill team rider, Shelby Epperson, desired to propel her horseback riding skills to a new level. “Trick riding sparked my interest because it was something unique I could experience with my horse,” explained Shelby Epperson. Soon she recruited her best friends, Ashlee Hearod and Kelsey Scott. The three Willard, Mo., friends expanded the team a couple of years later to include Katy Tennison and Kelsey Lauberth. “I love that while we are all working towards the same goals, we are also getting to do something we love while doing it. I think it is also neat to be able to say that less than 100 people in the United States can do what we do,” remarked Kelsey Scott. The Trixie Chicks perform at rodeos, fairs and other events all over the Ozarks.
They all receive coaching from Miko McFarland, who worked for several years as a professional trick rider at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Theater in Branson, Mo. The first step in trick riding is teaching the horses to run a pattern in an arena without the rider holding on to the reins. Next, the riders practice their moves while their horse stands. Then they progress to practicing stunts while another team member rides alongside holding the reins. When horse and rider are ready, they take on the trick with the horse galloping full speed and no one at the reins. “The faster they go, the easier it is because they level out and are straight and steady. But, your mind starts to go, ‘This is scary,’” explained Kelsey Lauberth. Despite the natural nerves that come with performing such daring stunts, the riders find calm due to the trust they have built with their horses. “The bond between horse and rider is probably more important than anything else in trick riding. You have to fully trust your horse to hold you and keep you safe. He isn’t just an animal you ride, he is your support system, your safety net and you are trusting him with your life,” said Kelsey Scott.
The riders consider their horses as teammates and go to great lengths to ensure the health, safety and mental wellbeing of their equine companions. “We only practice trick riding at most once per week. It is very awkward and strenuous for them. Some horses grow to dislike it if they aren’t stimulated in other ways. Most of the girls on the team like to trail ride and do other exercises to keep our horses mentally in the game,” Ashlee said. “The horses have to be physically capable of holding us in our tricks and have to be mentally stable enough to handle the constant changing environments they will be performing in,” explained Shelby.
Though the Trixie Chicks spend countless hours training, practicing and bonding with their horses, due to the nature of their performances, a hint of danger always lingers. Fortunately, none of the Trixie Chicks have endured a serious injury, but they have incurred many scrapes and bruises. They trust their emphasis on safety, good equipment and excellent training will keep them out of harm’s way. Still, nothing completely wipes away nerves during a show. “Probably the biggest part of the anticipation is at the gate. Sitting there with the gate wide open, waiting for the announcer. There is nothing like it,” revealed Kelsey Lauberth. And these brave cowgirls love every minute of it. “The team is made up of my closest friends, which means I get to spend all that time with my best friends, my horse and the sport I adore. What more could a girl ask for?” concluded Shelby.


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