If you are not familiar with Wild Horse Racing, the concept is simple enough. Three men on a team - a Shank man that holds a rope attached to the halter, a Mugger that holds the horse, and a Rider who saddles the horse and rides around the track. The first rider across the finish line wins.
As with most things that sound simple in principle, they are anything but simple when it comes to implementation. In this event, the problem is the horse. These are not saddle horses and the word "Wild" plays a very important part. These horses come out of Harry Vold's 'born to buck' program. They have been out on pastures on the Vold ranch near Avondale, Colo., where they have had almost no contact with humans and definitely have never been under saddle or ridden.
Wild Horse Racing has some rules, but not many. There is no safety equipment required. You will see a lot of tape and knee braces. Occasionally you will see an impact vest, but these are usually on racers that have been kicked in the past. All of which really says a lot for the courage of the people that participate in this sport. Wild Horse Racers can be kicked, dragged, run over, run into and thrown off. When the five minutes of absolute mayhem of a race is over, more than one racer is limping, has a concussion, or worse.
The Riders all have individual concepts on what works for them when it comes to saddles. You can not walk into a retail saddle shop and buy a Wild Horse Racing Saddle. All are custom made to some degree and different, but they have some similarities. They are very light as the rider has to chase a moving horse while carrying the saddle. They all have something to hang onto on the front of the saddle. They all have a rope loop or metal handle on the back to hang onto. Some have more than one handle in case one pulls out while the horse is bucking. Every Rider has a different philosophy when it comes to stirrups. There can be one, two, or none.
The Pickup Men deliver a horse to each team. Some stand quietly and some fight the rope. When the gun sounds (they do use a gun), the mayhem starts. There are horses running everywhere, dragging racers, and running into men and each other. Shank ropes are crossed everywhere, which makes it doubly difficult for the Muggers, because they have to work their way up the Shank to the horse and hold it. Some people have described this as a 'head lock,' but what they are trying to do is hold the horse with their arm across the horse's eyes so the horse will stand while the Rider saddles and mounts them. This is another one of those 'easier said than done' things.
This year, for the 113th Cheyenne Frontier Days, Wild Horse Racing was different in that an Arena Race was added and each day the event alternated between Arena and Track racing. Arena Racing is basically the same except that the horses are delivered to the teams from the chutes, instead of being brought to the track by the Pickup riders. This means that the horses are fresh because they have not been fighting the shank rope all the way across the arena. When the chute gates open, they charge into the arena dragging the Shank man and the Mugger behind them. A lot of horses are lost right here - lose the shank and you lose the horse and your day is over.
Another new wrinkle for the 2009 Frontier Days Wild Horse Racing was the entry of the first all-girl team. The participants in Wild Horse Racing really take a beating and are usually men. While there have been some female members on a team, they are rare. The last female to compete in Cheyenne was a Rider 10 years ago.
Members of the team are Jamie Batty, Rider, Angel King, Mugger, and Gina Lawson, Shank. The three women, who are mothers and have been breaking horses all their lives, feel they are up to the challenge. They certainly understood the gravity of their undertaking as two of the women completed living wills before the event.
Although the team lost their horses on both days and did not qualify for the Finals, they were right in the thick of the action and you have to applaud their courage.
Wild Horse Racing is patterned after events at the very first Cheyenne Frontier Days. While the Arena Race experiment may not be repeated, Wild Horse Racing is a part of the 113 year history of the "Daddy of 'em All" and will be around for some time.