The 2016 PIHRA races are off to an exciting start, and even more exciting, the finals will be taking place in Billings, Montana, which is close enough for us to go, so it looks like we’ll be taking a week in September. Maybe two, if we make wacipi earlier in September. From Lakota Country Times:

According to the PIHRA website “Indian relay is America’s oldest sport. It dates back over 400 years to when the horse was first re-introduced to the native cultures of the America’s. Lakota culture insists that this was in fact the second coming of the horse and its reintroduction and in fact the relationship to the plains cultures and the horse is perhaps much older than that is realized. Archeology seems to support that view.”

The PIHRA would add, “It appears that Indian relay developed independently amongst the Indian nations. Different cultures have different oral histories of its origins and most likely they are all true representations. To one tribe relay was used as war games, to another a relay to hunt the buffalo, to another a way to outrun the wild horses to enable their capture,” said the PIHRA.

The Modern version of the sport is currently experiencing a time of rapid growth and has over 50 teams currently vying for one of thirty spots in this year’s World Championships set to be held in Billings, MT on September, 22, 2016.

During the relay portion of the race Riders and Holders line up and await a starting gunshot. After the start riders leap on horses and race three laps exchanging horses after each lap. Fifteen horses and 20 warriors are on the track at the same time working for that seamless exchange. Each team consists of a rider, an Exchange Holder who holds the horse the rider mounts, a Mugger who catches the horse the rider jumps off, and a Back Holder who’s job it is to secure the extra horse during horse rotation.

The PIHRA requires team members to be dressed in tribal theme oriented regalia or traditional ribbon shirts while the rider’s regalia will display moccasins, breechcloths and/or leggings. All horses will be marked with traditional tribal war paint and decorations in colors determined by team tradition which may include medicine and feathers and any distinguishing personal symbol, mark and color.





There’s much more to read and see at Professional Indian Horse Racing Association. Check the schedules, if you’re going to be in the areas this year, grab a ticket.


  1. says

    Barebacking at that speed… Just seeing that made my pee myself a little. Yeah, I know those guys can ride. How do I know? They’d be dead, otherwise.

  2. says

    I’ve never been as good as they are, they train hard, from a very early age (you can see some of the kids at the PIHRA photo gallery), but doing a dead run bareback is fun. I don’t know how to describe it, it’s like nothing else on earth.

  3. says

    doing a dead run bareback is fun. I don’t know how to describe it, it’s like nothing else on earth.

    I’ve come off a horse at a gallop, maybe that’s why I’m biassed.
    I had gravel in my sinuses. But honestly, I was just glad I had sinuses at all, after that.

    I would love to see some kind of horsemanship contest between mongols and native americans. Because that would be insanely bad ass, and I’m sure they’d love eachother. Horseback archery, yum.

    Granted, the few days on horseback when I had perfect days -- when P-nut was in a good mood and so was I, and we just noodled through the woods with him looking for apples and deer to spook at, while I just enjoyed the sound of his feet and the dappled light… Yeah. It’s magical. I remember those times less vividly than the rushes of terror or the sudden crunch and pain. But those were good times.

    Like most kinetic sports, when you’re a kid and you’re still immortal, you can learn the envelope and really go at it more and better than someone coming into it at 40-something. I did … questionable things on my bicycle and now I am amazed that I survived. I love how that perspective changes as we age, but I regret not being able to go back to what it felt like before I knew what getting hurt feels like.

  4. says


    I’ve come off a horse at a gallop, maybe that’s why I’m biased.

    Yeah, me too. I’ve come off a horse at a dead run more than once, been ripped up good. Came off a horse once when we were on top of a cliff. That was interesting. It’s one of those things. Never once came off a bareback dead run on my Mustang Blitz, though. That horse was serious special.

    Fuck, I’d still bareback at a dead run now, even if I could only do it one more time, and I’m looking at 59 in November.

  5. rq says

    Something about men on horseback at full gallop.
    Okay, something about people on horseback at full gallop.
    Just wow.

  6. says

    It’s weird. I wiped a dirt bike once at much higher speed than coming off the horse. But it was nowhere near as scary. I don’t understand why.

    My worst pain, horse-wise, was .. unexpected. My dog Jake, who was a great big wolf-looking thing, came booming around the side of the barn when I was placidly barebacking P-nut from his day pasture to his night pasture. So P-nut saw a wolf in her peripheral and took a quick step or two forward (I was relaxed like a noodle) and left me hanging in the air like Wile E. Coyote. Then I landed ass first on the gravel driveway. On my car keys.

    Came off a horse once when we were on top of a cliff.

    Well, I guess that’s a coin toss depending on which side, right? You’re still here… So…

    I trained P-nut myself. OK, that was a bad idea. But I had theories about positive reward rather than punishment and reward, and I was willing to put it on the line. He’s a good lunk but I still don’t really know how he steers. Basically, he goes where I’m paying attention, based on subliminal cues. One day I was duddling around the back woods and an ATV popped over a crestline and I whipped my head around to look, which apparently meant to P-nut that he should leap straight up in the air and do a 180 kind of thing that I still don’t believe horses can do, which uncoiled my spine like a party popper. He didn’t spook, though, he just interpreted my head-whipping maneuver as my wanting a P-nut whipping maneuver. I am pretty sure that if anyone else had seen it, I would have won a prize or been featured on failblog or something.

    I was always scared to take him up to a run, because he likes to buck going into a canter, and a buck from a percheron is kind of like getting thrown in the air by Mike Tyson. But there was this one time when we surprised a bear and the bear had to let us know he was annoyed and P-nut looked at me like, “can I run now?” and we did and it was glorious.

  7. Siobhan says

    Also (sorry for double post):

    I am really enjoying the look of focus on their faces. There’s something about that expression I find admirable. Wonderful action shots, very impressive athletics from both rider and horse.

  8. says


    But I had theories about positive reward rather than punishment and reward, and I was willing to put it on the line.

    Good trainers love horses, and care about those in their charge, and don’t use punishment of any kind. That’s old, Western crap, and it’s certainly not anything at all to do with Indian horsemanship. That said, there are a lot of asshole trainers out there, who still think breaking is a good thing to do. It’s a great way to destroy a horse.

    Indian horsemanship is pretty much the complete opposite of Western horsemanship. You don’t seat Western style, which is wrong, and stresses the horse, stresses the rider, and slows you both down. That’s one reason bareback or blanket is preferable to saddle.

  9. blf says

    Eeeeek! Horses!! Run away, run away!!!

    Actually, in this case, it’e more like Damn the Airlocks, BLAST OFF NOW!!!!!1!

  10. Ice Swimmer says

    Marcus Ranum @ 6

    Maybe we apes have and instinctive reaction for falling and heights but not for high speeds.

  11. blf says

    Maybe we apes have [an] instinctive reaction for falling and heights but not for high speeds.

    More likely for not slamming into trees at high speed at the end of a vine… ooook

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