Chariot racing goes back to ancient times, the Roman Empire, and was a prominent feature of the ancient Olympic games. Haling from Cavalier, North Dakota, in walking distance of the Canadian border, is a North Dakota High School rodeo athlete that recently became the 2023 Rookie Chariot Racing Champion of the 2023 Manitoba Professional Chariot and Chuckwagon Association (MPCCA) Professional Tour.
Gracee Thorlakson, a 16-year-old junior of Cavalier Public School, said, “I saw some female chariot racers doing it, and it was something I wanted to do. I had a group of friends in Canada that were a part of it; my family is involved in chariot and chuckwagon racing, so this pieced into my life well.”
Gracee isn’t afraid to admit that she is an adrenaline junkie. When it comes to rodeo, she participates in the speed event of barrel racing, flying off her horse at full speed in the goat tying, and ropes calves in the breakaway. In addition, she also plays basketball for the Cavalier Tornadoes. It isn’t surprising that this optimistic competitor took on the task of managing two horses at a time, hooked up to a ‘speed wagon’ per se.
“I first competed two years ago in the states with a team my family had. The horses were named ‘Hemi’ and ‘Peggy,’” said the cowgirl. “This year in Canada, I started the tour a little later due to the high school rodeo schedule.”
Driving the team of Hemi (12) and Arlene (23) (both thoroughbred/quarter horse crosses) to the 2023 Rookie Chariot Championship of the MPCCA Pro Tour was not just a feather in Gracee’s hat, but the start of something more. She said she plans on going to all the shows next year in Canada, which is every weekend starting in June and bringing along her barrel and rope horses to hit rodeos while she is there.
The love for horses and competing all goes back to Gracee’s ranching roots. Gracee is part of a family raising cattle on the northern boundary of the United States. She grew up showing cattle and watching her family partake in chuckwagon and chariot racing. The junior in high school is on track to earn her veterinary assistance certificate through the state of North Dakota by the time she graduates and says she plans of attending NDSU for pre-veterinary medicine.
“My great aunt is a vet; I’m lucky to get to go with her on calls. I find a drive in me that wants to help large animals, especially equine,” added Gracee.
The connection between this young standout and her horses and livestock is special, and that’s an understatement. “I wouldn’t be anywhere without horses. I look back at the places they have taken me, the people I have met because of them. The things I have learned such as patience, determination, and working hard were all because I had horses in my life.”
Conditioning her chariot athletes and rodeo horses is always on her mind. Gracee said that when it comes to the chariot racing, it is as much mental preparation as it is physical, due to the flow of the adrenaline and the highs and lows. “I condition these horses during the week and pony them. We have a track at home that we work on, but seldom actually race them at home. The feed program varies between each horse, but anytime I can, the horses are turned out on grass and in pasture. The racehorses are on full oats, alfalfa and grass during competition season and my rodeo horses get grain morning and night, along with alfalfa and fresh pasture as much as possible.”
Mentally, the horsewoman says she is always looking forward, “With the highs and lows that life gives you, you must keep positive and looking forward. I had a pretty bad accident a couple years ago with a chariot. I know everything happens for a reason and from that day on, I accepted that it’s timing and things happen. We are to prepare and be prepared and in God’s time, it’ll happen.”
Wise beyond her years and smiling each moment, this cowgirl lives each day like she says, “Spike forward and aim high like an arrow.”
Gracee is the daughter of Tiffany and Kevin Robinson and Josh Thorlakson.
Tisa Peek is a long time horse trainer, competitor in barrel racing and team roping, and writer about the equine. Rodeo and horses run deep in her roots. JT Family Equine is where she calls home, south of Bismarck, ND. Tisa, along with her husband, Jon, and boys, Blu and River, train horses, host horse camps for youth, and provide riding lessons.