Young Ella Christensen represents family, community at national rodeo

Ella Christensen is on her way to the Junior National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas to compete Wednesday, Dec. 12 in barrel racing. (Submitted photo)

Ella Christensen, 12, of Queen Creek, who comes from a long line of horse enthusiasts, will showcase her skills in a national rodeo.

Young Ella recently qualified for the Junior National Finals Rodeo happening in Las Vegas. She is prepared to compete Wednesday, Dec. 12 and is just as sure of barrel racing as her own lineage when it comes to competing.

“This is a huge accomplishment and she will be competing against 70 of the best youth barrel racers from around the world,” her mother, Tarra Kowalski Christensen, said in a recent email.

The Casteel High School seventh grader recently qualified and competed in the Xtreme 1D finals in Salina, Utah Oct. 20 where she went against some of the best Barrel racers in the country and won a saddle.

Ella was even in the top three, winning in her division in a Las Vegas qualifier in September after her birthday Aug. 31, says Ella.

Ella says she gets nervous for national competitions and describes occasionally getting a shortness of breath. She is less scared on a local level because she knows many of the people in the circuit.

Lovingly, she credits her grandmother and trainer Melinda Hastings Kowalski for much of her success and for being a calming force for her, plus being her ride to the upcoming meet.

“She’s our one and only that’s running the barrels. It makes it easier on grandma,” said Ms. Hastings Kowalski of Ella, who is an only child, as she takes a break from the tractor for the interview about her granddaughter.

Ms. Hastings Kowalski not only trains her granddaughter but she trains Ella’s all-star champion horses too, including her main horse, “Skittles.”

“He’s my fastest at the moment,” Ella said. “I feel like I have been more successful with my grandma. We make a good partnership.”

Success is what grandma Hastings Kowalski knows. Her family has lived in Queen Creek since the 1950s and she resides in her family’s homestead. She comes from a long line of cowboys, farmers and ranchers.

Ella’s mom shared details about how her great-grandfather was the first to bring a quarter horse in to Arizona while her father owned “amazing” race horses such as “Heza Fast Man.”

The family matriarch, Ms. Hastings Kowalski, grew up rodeoing, working summers on her family ranch. Working on the race track enabled her to be an impressive trainer, following after Ella’s great-grandparents, Mack and Helen Hastings, who farmed a lot of Queen Creek for nearly 50 years.

Likewise, Ella recognizes that she was born around horses and her life revolves around horses since it’s in her family history. She owns 23 pets, all of which she knows by name, including a bunny, hedgehog, cat, five dogs, four chickens and about 11 horses, she recalls.

Ella, who takes competing seriously, is famous in her own right. Not only does she have her own web page for people to follow her riding endeavors, but she even gets to sign autographs.

She looks forward to signing autographs in Las Vegas. Then, she’ll return to her normal life back in the community and school, sharing stories about her pursuits in the horse world.

“Growing a bond with them puts me in a good mood. When you practice hard it pays off,” Ella says, describing her packed schedule and bonding with horses.

Videos of Ella competing can be seen at


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