Skates, saddle made all the difference

Eight years ago Amber Graham made a decision that changed her life. She decided to drop dance and basketball and take up hockey and trick riding.

Sisters Krista and Amber Graham demonstrate some trick riding at the beginning of the Red Deer Chuckwagon Championships.

Eight years ago Amber Graham made a decision that changed her life.

She decided to drop dance and basketball and take up hockey and trick riding.

Today the 21-year-old Graham, who is a veteran winger on the RDC Queens hockey team, and her sister Krista, 23, make up one of the premier professional trick riding teams in the country.

Graham was born and raised on a ranch near Marwayne, so being around horses was second nature.

“I was always around them and both my parents were involved in rodeo with my mother (Colleen) in barrel racing and my dad (Roy) in steer wrestling. I was on a drill team and did some trail riding.”

But it was dance and basketball that held her attention. That is until she started skating when she was 12 and then saw a trick rider at a rodeo.

It was something that fascinated her.

“Mom got the lady to give us four lessons and I was hooked,” explained Graham, who got her sister into it.

The family purchased a trick riding horse from the veteran rider and the sisters and their parents worked on training their own horses.

Today the sisters still work on training horses and give their own lessons.

The Graham Sisters are not only outstanding riders, but innovators in the business.

They were the first to use a daring manoeuvre that sees both sisters on the same horse. Krista does a layback on the back of the horse with her hands close to the ground while Amber stands on the horse’s shoulders.

“There are other teams that do that trick today, but we were the first,” said Amber. “Plus we do a one foot stand on the same horse.” But they’re taking it a step further, as they train their horses to jump through a ring of fire.

“We make the jump at the same time with us standing on our horses,” explained Amber. “We wanted to do something different.”

However, horses aren’t exactly friends of fire. “It took some work and a lot of training, but we did the trick at the WPCA (World Professional Chuckwagon Association) finals in Edmonton,” said Graham.

Both sisters attended RDC with Krista, who recently married professional chuckwagon driver Chance Bensmiller, receiving her nursing degree two years ago. Amber will complete her education degree this year.

But while tricking riding is a business, hockey is a passion for Amber.

“I never started playing until I was 13, but I loved it,” she said.

“I started playing in Kitscotty, but we didn’t have enough girls so I went into Lloydminster and tried out for their AAA team.”

She attended RDC in 2006, but didn’t try out for the hockey team the first year.

“I took a year off to work on my education and to become adjusted,” she said.

But in 2007 she decided to try for a berth on the Queens and today she’s one of the RDC squad’s top wingers, playing on a line with Megan and Jessica Abt.

“I’m glad I got back into it after the year off and this year it’s all coming together,” she said. “I’m playing on a good line . . . it’s exciting.”

Graham has a pair of goals in four starts this season and will be counted on Thursday as the Queens host the NAIT Ooks in Alberta Colleges Women’s Hockey League action at 7 p.m. at the Arena.

The game is part of alumni weekend, which also sees the volleyball and basketball teams playing SAIT in a home-and-home series.

The basketball squads play Friday at RDC and Saturday in Calgary while the volleyball teams are on the road Friday and at home Saturday.

The women get action underway in every case at 6 p.m. with the men to follow.

The hockey Queen are also on the road Friday at NAIT.

• Hockey Queens veteran goaltender Kaitlyn Chapman received the Moxie’s Classic Grill RDC female athlete of the week award with volleyball’s Darren Dornstauder taking top honours on the men’s side.

Chapman faced 62 shots in a pair of games against Mount Royal, coming away with a 2-2 tie and a 2-1 victory.

Dornstauder played solid in a weekend doubleheader sweep over Medicine Hat.

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