I’m not great on skis. I barely graduated from “pizza” to “French fries” as a kid on the bunny slopes, and my memories of mountain days are mostly of numb fingers and toes, aching legs, and lost poles. I was the kid that was ready to hit the waffle hut after two runs.
But skiing with horses – now that’s a winter sport I can get behind! After watching a few videos on skijoring, I found myself wanting to dig out the rusting skis and too-tight boots of yore. I explained the concept of our horses pulling us along by a tow rope to family and friends, and we all decided to head down to the barn and give it a go. It was twelve degrees and fresh snow was flying.
Skijoring, although new to me, has a long history and was originally a very practical method of winter transportation. Originating in Norway in the 19th century, “skijoring” roughly translates to “ski driving”. It was first used as a way to speed up transmission of army dispatches, but quickly became popular in other snowy parts of the world as a recreational thrill. We love the idea of using horses, but skijoring can be done with any draft animal, even dogs!
These days, skijoring in America looks more like an extreme rodeo. Competitions out West require horse, rider, and skier to maneuver courses of 1,000 feet or more, 12 slalom gates, six jousting rings, and multiple jumps that can be as high as six feet, all at top speed! The sport requires strength, speed, balance, and a certain level of fearlessness. Just watch how crazy these events can get:
Seizing The Day
Out in the snowy field on our little Massachusetts farm, we tacked up and snapped into bindings in pursuit of something a little more tame, but fun all the same.
Our skijoring beast of choice was Ten, our sweet and unshakable OTTB who would work all day long if we let him. We thought this would be an exciting new job for him in the doldrums of winter.
Boy, were we right: Ten was a regular ski bum! We started slow, getting him used to towing a rope while walking quietly behind him, but he was quickly ready for more. He was soon pulling a skier comfortably at the walk, and then a trot, then a canter, and finally, the good thoroughbred gallop he was born to do! Ten was pumped and we laughed uncontrollably, whooping as we took turns gliding through the fresh snow.
A Few Tips
If you want to give skijoring a go, make sure you take a few steps into consideration for best results and safe sliding. You’ll want to make sure the rope you’re using is thick and sturdy, and firmly attached to a D-ring on your saddle. Outfitting your horse with a breast plate is a good idea here, to keep tack stabilized. On the skier’s end, the ability to quickly release is key for safety. The skier can just hold the loops at the end of the rope in gloved hands so that they may simply let go should anything go wrong. If it’s your horse’s first time pulling a skier, start slow and get him accustomed to towing weight. Also, I highly recommend packing toasty hand warmers inside your gloves; they make gripping that rope a whole lot easier!
Fingers frozen, we showered Ten with pats for his job well done, throwing a wool cooler over him on our way back to the barn. He enjoyed many treats and an Absorbine® Veterinary Liniment rubdown once back in his warm stall.
We’ll certainly be trying skijoring again this winter, and for many winters to come. If you’ve got a brave, strong horse and a good blanket of snow, you should too!