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Indian Relay Celebrates History And Culture Through Horse Racing

Raedeyn Teton, left, and Jessica Broncho, race side-by-side in an Indian Relay on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Idaho.
Russel Daniels
Raedeyn Teton, left, and Jessica Broncho, race side-by-side in an Indian Relay on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Idaho.

It's a windy, hazy summer morning on the Snake River plain in southeastern Idaho, and Shoshone-Bannock tribal member Trevor Beasley is hanging out near his horse trailer. It's about an hour before the Fort Hall Reservation Indian Relay races begin, and he's watching as a teammate gets a little too close to his favorite mare.

"Got to watch out for her, she's a kicker," Beasley says as his teammate jumps out of the way. "That's your warning right there, man."

The mare's name is As Thunder Rolls. She's a tall, muscled animal — perfect for Indian Relay racing. The sport is one of the ways Indigenous tribes in the West celebrate their history and culture. In it, jockeys leap onto a different bareback horse, not once, not twice but three times as they race around a track.

Beasley loves it.

"The ride, the speed, the love of the horse," he says. "The power."

Pride is really what it means around here.

Indian Relay racing began around a century ago but its origins stretch back more than 300 years to when tribes like the Shohone and Bannock first climbed onto the backs of horses acquired from the Spanish.

"That's what we survived on," says LaGrande Coby, president of the Fort Hall Indian Relay Association. "Gathering our food back in the day. Travelling from different reservations to different reservations."

It's a relationship that survived forced assimilation and western tribes' loss of land.

On the day of the race at Fort Hall, about a hundred Indian Relay fans are sitting in reservation's rodeo bleachers sipping Coke and eating barbeque.

The rodeo track begins filling with horses and men wearing neon jerseys with bright-colored ribbons attached.

The jockeys get ready, a horn blows, and they're off racing around the dirt track. Dust flies up from the horses' hooves as the riders whip the animals. It's a windy day. Grass and hay seed are blowing around and the horses fly through it.

As they end their first lap the jockeys leap off their first horse, sprint to the second and take off. This is when things get chaotic. A man is knocked down and one animal even takes off without a rider. It gallops wildly off the rodeo track and into the grass staging area where folks frantically wave their cowboy hats. They're trying to contain it.

Back on the track, the jockeys are now on their third horse and the last leg of the race. The team called Cedar Ridge wins. Trevor Beasley watched the race from the sidelines.

"Pride is really what it means around here," he says. "A lot of people take pride in it."

He says, win or lose, everyone who participates in Indian Relay is celebrating their horsemanship and their history.

This story came to us through the public media collaboration Mountain West News Bureau.

Copyright 2021 KUER 90.1. To see more, visit KUER 90.1.

Nate is UM School of Journalism reporter. He reads the news on Montana Public Radio three nights a week.
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