Indian Relay appears to have developed independently in different tribes, leading to competitive relays between the nations and America’s first extreme sport. Today, Horse Nations compete against each other not in the spirit of warfare but for the native pride and "bragging rights" of the individual nations. The races are not only a demonstration of bravery, courage and amazing horsemanship but also an important connection to a historical and spiritual element of their culture.
Wearing traditional regalia, six Native American warriors ride bareback around the track at breathtaking speeds. After each lap, riders leap from one galloping horse to another, defying fear and gravity. Three teammates stand at the edge of the track, holding the other two horses while the “mugger” waits to catch the incoming horse as the rider dismounts at a full gallop. During the exchange, horses may rear up, flip or getaway and the incoming horse may or may not stop – it often becomes a classic case of organized mayhem, where one minor error can drastically change the outcome of the race. Once spectators witness this, they feel an intense excitement they never get with any other sport; this is why Indian Relay fans come back year after year.
The Professional Indian Horse Racing Association was founded to promote Indian Relay, horsemanship and safely. PIHRA has developed a season-long championship series, culminating with the All Nations Championships in Sheridan, Wyoming September 12-14, 2014. There were 17 founding teams in 2013; one year later, membership has grown to 40 teams and PIHRA expects to have more by the time of the championships. The vision of the teams and the entire membership is of relay becoming a viable cultural and economic entity on the reservations.
More than 30 elite teams representing 15 Indian nations will compete at the All Nations Championships for more than $50,000 in prizes and the coveted Champions’ Jackets and Buckles.The teams come from Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming and Canada. The tribes represented in relay include Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, Crow, Chippewa Cree, Blackfeet, Shoshone-Bannock, Eastern Shoshone and Colville Indians of Washington.
To find out more about Indian Relay or to purchase tickets, visit www.indianrelay.com or www.sheridanwyoming.org or call Jeanette Sassoon at 307-655-9330 or 561-301-5522. You can also purchase tickets at the WYO Theater box office, call 307-672-9084 or online at www.wyotheater.com.