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Staff photo by E.J. HarrisNarcis Reevis with the Piikuni Express out of Browning, Mont., gets help from his teammate during a horse transfer in the Indian Relay at the Pendleton Round-Up in 2016.

When a racing team involves four people, three horses and medical help at the ready, you can be sure it’s going to be exciting.

The Indian Relay Races, a fan favorite at the Pendleton Round-Up, are high-action, high-energy and high-stakes. The idea is for the rider to make it three times around the arena — each lap on a different horse. Three other team members are there to help with the transition from one horse to the next, which is the most challenging, and unpredictable, part of the race.

“It really makes the Round-Up authentic to its core,” said Randy Thomas, the Round-Up publicity director. “Horse culture has been phenomenal here for all that time.”

Horse racing has been a part of American Indian culture since long before the Round-Up. According to the Professional Indian Horse Racing Association, the sport has been around for more than 400 years, in different forms for various tribes.

It’s been a part of the Round-Up in some form or another for many years, too.

“I’ve been going since 1960 and it’s been there since I’ve been there,” Thomas said.

The race is not without its risks: Horses can get anxious and, having a mind of their own, may decide to take off for a lap on their own, or go somewhere other than the charted course.

“It’s hard on the human racers,” Thomas said. “I’ve seen humans get carried out of there. I’ve never seen a horse get carried out.”

He added that the prize money for the race is pretty substantial.

“It’s $17,000 added,” said Round-Up Competitve Events Director Nick Sirovatka. That means the winning team will get that money, in addition to whatever is collected from entry fees.

“It’s a rich race,” Thomas said. “These guys are running thoroughbreds.”

There is also a Chief’s Relay Race and a Women’s Relay Race on Saturday, Sirovatka said.

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