The “Championship of Champions” Indian horse relays will return to Casper this fall, the Horse Nations Indian Relay Council announced in a Thursday afternoon press conference at the Ramkota Hotel.
The championships, which will take place Sept. 22, 23 and 24 at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds, follow a summer’s worth of racing competitions.
Teams from Indigenous nations across the Northwestern U.S. and Canada compete for months for their chance to qualify. The winners of the preliminary competitions earn paid entry into the championship.
The council expects to welcome more than 40 teams this year.
“We’re looking for a record-setting year with teams,” said Calvin Ghost Bear, president of the council.
The 2023 championships will be sponsored by the Northern Arapaho Tribe and the Wind River Hotel and Casino.
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The championship was previously held in Casper in 2021, 2020 and 2019. Last year, it was held in Fort Pierre, South Dakota.
“We want (Casper) to be their permanent home,” said Tom Jones, general manager for the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo. “And the way to do that is for this community to support them, get behind them and let them know that you want them to stay here also.”
Here’s how the relays work:
Like a derby, the goal is to cross the finish line first. But instead of having one jockey and one horse per team, in Indian Horse Racing, each team usually consists of four people and three horses.
And there aren’t any saddles. Every team has one rider, who races bareback three laps around the track.
Complicating things further, riders must also switch horses between laps.
Two other members of the team are responsible for holding the other horses while they wait for the rider.
The fourth member, called the “mugger,” catches the horse the rider leaves behind after every lap.
Just like rodeo sports, it can get pretty intense.
“We take every safety precaution that we can to to alleviate to minimize any type of accident,” Ghost Bear said at the press conference. “And so we’re already reaching out to making sure that we have all of the professional help that we need to have there to make sure that the race is running smoothly.”
The main focus of the championships are the men’s relays. But there’ll be other events, too, like and women’s and children’s races.
The circuit has only had women’s relays for three or four years, said Ghost Bear, but the event is growing quickly.
“We have started out with about four teams,” he said. “Now we’re up to 18 teams that are pretty consistent women teams throughout the horse relay circuit.”
The council expects competitors from Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Montana, Arizona, Washington and as well as Canada.
In previous years, the championships have included cultural festivities like dancing and hand drumming in between races. They’ve also hosted vendors selling crafts and jewelry.
Tickets will be available starting April 14 on the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo’s website, centralwyomingfair.com.
Any local businesses that want to help support the championships are invited to email Ghost Bear at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jones at email@example.com.