INDIAN RELAY: An Incredible Form of Horse Racing

We are proud and honored to have Janae Firehorse as Absorbine’s guest blogger this month! Strap in as Janae guides us through the sport of Indian Relay, how it works and the meaning it has for the Great Planes tribes. Enjoy!

Indian relay

What is Indian Relay? It’s a Native American sport that has evolved from the buffalo hunting ways of the Great Plains tribes into one of the most incredible forms of horse racing you’ll ever see. The astonishing athleticism of three horses and one fearless rider leaping from one to the next is simply heart-pounding, and the roles of the three-man support crew, which includes a mugger (catcher), an exchange holder, and a back holder, also require amazing strength and courage.

Indian relay

How does relay racing work? Think of a relay race in track and field, but instead of passing a baton between runners, the rider literally becomes the baton, leaping off one charging horse and onto the next, galloping off again in mere seconds. These exchanges, as they are called, are absolutely thrilling to watch as the rider steers his mount at full gallop into his team’s chalk-marked box, where he leaps off, runs a few feet, and throws himself up onto the next horse while the mugger grabs the first horse.

Indian relay

Most relays are held at state or county fairs on a “bullring” – a half to 5/8 mile racetrack – but the historic “Battle of the Horse Nations” is held at Emerald Downs in Auburn, Washington, whose full-mile oval required some problem-solving. The solution is to have not one, but two exchange points, and four-horse teams. Indian Relays will be held at Emerald Downs June 10-12 this year, promising thrilling competition among 18 teams. You can watch races in a live stream here! The first post time is 2 pm Pacific Time Zone – June 10, 2016.

The bravery and horsemanship skills of these riders garner the respect of even the most seasoned racetrackers – and all of it is done while riding bareback! The sport takes drive, passion, courage, endurance and never-ending faith to get these teams to the relay race meets, which are held mainly west of the Rockies. Coming from many different reservations all throughout Indian Country, teams, horses and families often travel on a wing and a prayer to their destinations in hopes of counting coup on their rivals, who are also their brothers in this sport of fierce competitors.

Indian relay

To learn more, here is a documentary-style video about Indian Relay:

Have you ever attended or participated in an Indian Relay? What do you think about this unique sport? Comment below!

5 comments on “INDIAN RELAY: An Incredible Form of Horse Racing”

  1. Sharon says:

    I would like to see them not use a whip. Shear expertise and luck

  2. Kathy says:

    Are the Indians pro slaughter?

  3. Sharon johnson says:

    That is so exciting. Would have done that when I was younger. I rode bareback for 15 years before I rode in a saddle . always felt better bareback riding. All in balance

  4. Jennifer Mount says:

    I would much rather watch this every year than the triple crown. This a very intense level of rider capability and athleticism. These horses are just as hot blooded and spirited.

  5. legal sounds says:

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    There’s a lot of folks that I think would really appreciate your content.
    Please let me know. Cheers

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