Indian Relay-America’s First Extreme Sport
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.
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. Whatever the origins of relay the importance of it and of the horse to the plains cultures cannot be understated. The horse was transportation, it provided sustenance, it provided protection. The horse was considered sacred by many native cultures and revered by all. It was a major source of status and a most sought after prize. Relay provided the measure to test the horse, the rider, and the team.
Indian Relay is also America’s oldest competition, it’s first and most exciting test of skill. Today Indian relay is resurging as America’s newest extreme sport. Warriors racing at break neck speed, leaping from one galloping horse flying onto another, defying fear and gravity. Displaying the ultimate bond of horse and rider, when the two become one. Three horses, one rider, two holders and a mugger, nation against nation, warrior against warrior, fighting for the coveted Championship.
Indian relay tracks are typically one half mile. That is considered the ideal size for relay tracts and horses. Other size races tracks are used as well. The race typically starts in front of the grandstand with 4 to 6 teams lined up. The type of starts may very with the rider either mounted or standing depending upon the rules of the host event. In some relays a gun is fired signaling the starting of the race. After the start the riders gallop around the track and come into their box (an imaginary box usually about 15 by 36 feet sometimes outlined in flour) where the other horses and team mates are supposed to congregate for the most exciting part of relay the exchange. Here the rider steps off his first horse, usually at a full gallop, briefly touches the ground and flies onto the back of the second horse being held by the set up man. The mugger is responsible for catching the first horse discarded by the rider. If the mugger loses the horse the team may be disqualified. It takes a great deal of team work and bravery to grab a 1000 pound galloping horse to make sure it will not escape. Team work is a key to success in relay as it was to survival in the times of these men’s grandfathers and great grandfathers. Then the cycle repeats again with the third horse. The winner is the first team across the finish line on the final horse. Typically a relay event will be run over 3 or 4 days with heats, or qualifying races run the first days and a championship and consolation on the final day. Payouts vary by venue. Races typically have been confided to the reservations although Indian relay fans show great support and loyalty where ever it is run.
There are few rules in Indian relay and on many tracks anything goes. PIRHA had added rules to protect the safety of the horse and rider but relay is considered by all an extreme sport and the ultimate test of bravery, courage, athleticism and oneness between the horse and rider.
The Professional Indian Horse Racing Association, PIHRA, is the organizing body of Indian Relay and represents over 50 Indian Relay teams and events. It main concern is the safety of the horses, spectators and participants. It seeks to develop relay in to an economic and athletic resource for the Native American cultures. It sanctions and supports individual relay events around the country.