Indian Relays

2014 Year of the Horse

Indian Relays are flat track horse races and the track at Charging Home Stampede Park is a half mile track. Each race consists of three laps; three horses, one lap for each horse, one rider riding bareback, two horse holders/handlers holding the next mounts and a 'mugger', a person to slow and 'catch' the running horse at each changeover. The races vary in number of riders.

It's the Start of the First Race at the North American Indian Days in Blackfeet Country, Browning, Montana, always the second week of July, last year, 2013--

There is no starting gate as in standard flat track racing. "The horses are all in the gate!"--No. None of that. This a 'free' start. The mounted riders and horses approach a line across the track; that's the starting line. The starter is off to the side with his starter's flag. If they aren't lined up when they hit the line the starter makes the riders wheel the horses back in the opposite direction and approach again. 'BACK! BACK! GO BACK!' The starter may do this a couple times. Or more. When he figures they are approaching more or less in line at the line he turns them loose. The horses are moving, some at a lope, some at a trot, some walking, maybe one rather remarkably standing patiently just behind the line, maybe prancing-other horses may have just wheeled in the opposite direction and as a result will be way behind from the start, so there's a definite art to getting the start just right ...

The Changeover

Slowing these thoroughbred former race track horses being ridden without a saddle--no pommel, no stirrups for the rider to hold against--means there is little leverage or ability to slow the horse. The horse keeps running as the rider needs to dismount for the changeover. 'Whoa!' They slow to an easy lope, maybe a trot, but there's no 'whoa', still plenty of 'go' in these race horses. That's where the mugger comes in. He grabs the horse, usually by the bridle and one side of the reins and tries to slow and at the same time 'catch' and hold the horse as the rider slides off or leaps to a running dismount. If the mugger doesn't catch and control the horse and the horse runs free the team is disqualified. Horses, tangles, muggers, riders, holders, The Crowd...lots of excitement.

A mugger at work. On the right side of the photo the mugger is trying to hold a fresh horse while the rider tries to get aboard before the horse, who clearly wants to join the race, takes off. Notice there are two kinds of photos that will be displayed here: standard, as below, and another version above. They are different; each has merit.

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