O’siyo. American Indian relay races are becoming a very popular sport. Although the exact origins of the sport are unclear, some say that the races have been in existence since the early 1900s. A documentary of this fascinating sport will be presented by Montana PBS Monday, November 18, 2013.
Excerpt: Changing Horses, By Marga Lincoln, Independent Record
“A new documentary by Montana PBS, Indian Relay, focuses on this unique and dangerous sport. Before the film premieres nationally in November…Filmed by Charles Dye, a Northwest Regional Emmy-award winner, it was written by Montana educator and poet M.L. Smoker, who is Assiniboine and Sioux.
You’ll see incredible and daring race film footage from a host of relay races in Indian Country and then the Indian Relay National Championships in Blackfoot, Idaho, in 2011.
Along the way, you travel with rider Myles Murray from Browning, Zack Rock and Kendall Old Horn of Crow Agency and Lance Tissisimit and Alonzo “Punkin” Coby, who are Shoshone-Bannock from Fort Hall, Idaho.
In this sport, riders race bareback at top gallop around a track. After one lap, barely slowing down, they switch horses by leaping down from one and onto another. After galloping around the track the second lap, the riders again leap onto a fresh horse and race to the finish line. These riders are very athletic and very fearless,said Old Horn, who has been involved in Indian relay racing for 37 years.
You could take any Indian relay rider and he could play with the best basketball and football players. But you can’t take the best football or basketball player and put them in Indian relay. Professional jockeys wouldn’t touch Indian relay with a 10-foot stick. The degree and skill it takes to be an Indian relay rider is night and day from any other sport.
There’s quite a bit of choreography that’s involved, said Dye, the film’s director and producer. It takes a real trained team effort. There’s also quite a bit of chaos and danger on the track throughout the race.
His interest in Indian relay was first piqued years ago, when he was filming the Montana PBS documentary, “Before There Were Parks,” which showed the views of Native people on the creation of Yellowstone and Glacier National parks. It aired at the time of Ken Burns’ 2009 PBS series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.
My curiosity was building,” said Dye, who had been seeing photos in different homes showing various Indian relay races. I couldn’t figure out the photos. It didn’t look like standard horse racing.
When Aaron Pruitt, director of content at MontanaPBS, heard Dye first describe this crazy, dangerous, exhilarating sport, he was surprised.
I’m a native Montanan,” said Pruitt, “and I’d never heard of this. We were thrilled to tell this contemporary and popular story.
It’s also been selected by PBS’ five-time Emmy Award-winning series “Independent Lens,” and will premiere before national public television audiences on Nov. 18.
Video clip of a Relay Race Here:
“It’s a unique and beautiful sport. It’s just amazing. Those thoroughbreds are huge. These guys are brave, and these horses are too. The horses are also athletes.” ~ Charles Dye~ Director and producer of Indian Relay