BILLINGS, Mont. – Horses revolutionized Native life and became an integral part of tribal cultures, honored in art, objects, stories, songs, and ceremonies. Horses changed methods of hunting and warfare, modes of travel, lifestyles, and standards of wealth and prestige. The impact of the horse on Native American Tribes led to these tribes being collectively referred to as the “Horse Nations.”
The importance of this relationship between man and horse has been handed down from generation to generation through practice, oral history and, today, has developed into the most exciting and explosive sporting competition between the Indian Nations of the Northern Plains – Indian Relay Racing. Horse Nations intensely compete with each other throughout the summer months to earn their place at the Professional Indian Horse Racing Association (PIHRA) All Nations Indian Relay Championships held in September each year.
Indian Relay is a team competition, each team comprising one rider, three horses, and three courageous teammates to hold, catch, and control the two extra horses as the rider leaps from one to another, making a single circuit of the track on each. All horses are ridden bareback. With at least five teams in each heat working to execute these extremely difficult bareback transfers, stopping horses from a full gallop and starting others, all within a crowded stretch of track filled with four other teams performing the same maneuvers, the Indian Relay can get chaotic but is always thrilling!
Indian Relay appears to have developed independently in different tribes, leading to competitive relays between tribal members and nations and collectively as 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 and connection to their ancestors.
Wearing traditional regalia, four to 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… the “mugger” waits to catch the incoming horse as the rider dismounts at a full gallop, the “exchange man” readies the next excited horse and the “back holder” steadies and cares for the horse that just came in. 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 non-stop action and excitement, they feel an intense connection to relay that they get with few if any other sport; this is why Indian Relay fans come back year after year and why Indian relay has such a dedicated following.
The Professional Indian Horse Racing Association was founded to promote Indian Relay, horsemanship and safety. PIHRA has developed a season-long championship series, culminating with the All Nations Indian Relay Championships. There were 13 founding teams in 2013; three years later, PIHRA membership is growing rapidly, adding teams and sanctioned events. Last year’s Championships had only one team from Canada; this year Canada hopes to send three or four. The Kainai Fair and Rodeo, being held in Alberta this week-end (July 15-17) were added as a sanctioned event with the goal of earning the points necessary to advance on the Road to Billings. The PIHRA Board is considering limiting teams to compete at the Championships to less than 30; this increases the pressure on all competitors and makes for an exciting season run up to Billings. Only the top teams are selected to attend three days of qualifying rounds to determine the six teams that will advance to the finals. Those not in the top six will battle it out during the first, second and third consolation races prior to the championship race on the final day of the Championships.
This year, the All Nations Indian Relay Championships will be held Sept 22-25 at the historic MetraPark Grandstands in Billings, Mont. The most elite teams representing 15 Indian nations will compete at the 2016 All Nations Championships for more than $75,000 in money, prizes, expenses, and the coveted Champions’ Jackets and Belt Buckles. The teams come from Washington State, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Montana, South Dakota, and Canada. The tribes represented in relay include Oglala Lakota Sioux, Lower Brule Sioux, Eagle Butte Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, Blackfeet, Crow, Shoshone-Bannock, Eastern Shoshone, Nez Perce, Nakota, the Colville Confederated Tribes and the Umatilla Confederated Tribes. The vision of the teams and the entire membership is for relay to become a viable cultural and economic entity on the reservations.
For more information about PIHRA and the All Nations Indian Relay Championships, visit www.LetsRelay.com, follow “Professional Indian Horse Racing Association” on Facebook or checkout Indian Relay videos on www.letsrelay.com.
- For reservations and tickets, contact the MetraPark Grandstands box office at 800-366-8538 or 406-256-2422 or go to www.indianrelay.com.
- For press information, call Nancy Harrison at 307-421-4473, firstname.lastname@example.org
- For event information go to www.LetsRelay.com
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Images available to media at this link: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ukxtfce3jlthihl/determination.jpg?dl=0
Photo Credit to Diana Volk
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Professional Indian Horse Racing Association
CONTACT: Nancy Harrison