The starting shot fires, then chaos.
At least that’s how it looks from the grandstands, as competitors ride their horses bareback at top speeds around the arena, only to jump off as they reach the south grandstands and hop onto the next steed with the help of teammates. The first to make it three times around — on three different horses — is crowned the winner.
The races are won and lost on the transfer, where the chaos comes in. Sometimes a horse will get spooked and take off for the infield. Others will stubbornly twist and turn, not letting the anxious rider mount for the next lap.
But when it all goes well, with the rider, handlers and horses working in perfect sync, it’s a thing of beauty.
According to the Professional Indian Horse Racing Association, the sport dates back 400 years and developed independently amongst Indian nations. That makes is the true American pastime.
The Round-Up was sanctioned last year by the PIHRA, which increased the level of competition substantially.
“By sanctioning this, the whole idea is to get the best teams available to come here and race,” Round-Up events director Bill Quesenberry said. “This is what (the racers) do for a living, so it’s not a weekend thing for them. They’re very serious about what they do.”
And so the fans, who Quesenberry says have already been wary to miss the hasty three-lap races, will find their buttocks even more firmly glued to the bleachers.
“These races are put on right in front of them. The people on the south grandstand get to see the exchanges right in front of them.” Quesenberry said.
Competitors don traditional face paint and Native American garments, such as moccasins.
“These are a tough bunch,” Quesenberry said of the holders. “They take a beating. The horses step all over them, and they just keep on going.”
What it all amounts to is two hectic, unpredictable minutes of racing mayhem.
“I haven’t talked to anybody that doesn’t like it,” Quesenberry said. “It doesn’t last a long time, but it’s long enough that it keeps people in their seats and they get a good show out of it.”