Anticipation was high as the inaugural Ioway Invitational Indian Relay Race kicked off in the small rural town of Perkins, Oklahoma last month. Indian horse relay racing is currently billed as Native America’s #1 extreme sporting event and its popularity continues to grow.
The races in Perkins didn’t disappoint the enthusiastic fans. “It was exciting, the way the riders flew off the horses and jumped onto the next one and blazed around the track,” said A.J. Springer, (Ioway / Otoe) who grew up in Perkins.
Springer, who works for the Ioway Tribe Cimarron Tribal Casino, which sponsored the race, told ICTMN, “There were a lot of people that showed up – the bleachers were full. There were teams from Montana, Standing Rock, Idaho, Wyoming, and South Dakota. It was keen to see it in Perkins. Hope they bring it back next year.”
A beautiful image of the Indian Relay - Michelle LaVasque
The sport of Indian Relay is unlike any other horse race people have grown accustomed to, and is mostly undiscovered in mainstream America. Each mounted rider, representing their team races around the track riding bareback, reaches at speeds of up to 40 miles an hour to complete one lap.
Hardly slowing down, the riders jump from one horse and leap onto another for the 1st transition, gripping and breaking out for the second full lap. Riders then make another, final exchange, accelerating to the finish line with full pedal to the metal intensity.
Each team features a seasoned bareback horse rider who fearlessly rides three thoroughbreds around the ½ mile track; a team member gets the next horse ready to make the relay exchange; another person, known as the “catcher,” has to catch the dismounted horse after its lap is done; and one last person has to keep everything in order.
The origins of the Indian relay come from the Northern Plains – from places like Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington and the Dakotas.
“You need an experienced rider. That’s the number one person on the team,” said Linwood His Bad Horse, (Northern Cheyenne) from Lame Deer, Montana who was invited to help coordinate the race. The His Bad Horse relay team is one of the most well-known Indian horse relay teams in the country. His Bad Horse has been in the business for more than 20 years and is a past champion rider.
“I grew up on a horse,” said His Bad Horse. “The sport has always been there. There has been some exposure, and a lot of the tribes in Oklahoma are wanting to bring this back and we’re re-introducing this relay race. It’s a high-powered event and it’s kind of like NASCAR racing. It’s full speed. The crowd in Oklahoma was really excited.”
“It’s a high adrenaline sport. That’s what makes it so exciting. The high speed of the horses and the exchanges the riders make,” said His Bad Horse. “Fans are fascinated by the horses and the bareback riders. The exchanges are what are exciting. The track conditions were really great.”
“The Ioway Tribe did an awesome job bringing the Indian Relay Race down to Ioway Country. It was educational to see how the young Native American men handled their horses, knew their horses, and it was a great Native event,” said Alicia McClellan (Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma), but is also part Ioway.”