Indian Relay Celebrates History And Culture Through Horse Racing One of the ways Native tribes in the West celebrate their history and culture is through annual summer horse races. They're known as Indian Relays, and tribes call them America's first extreme sport.
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Indian Relay Celebrates History And Culture Through Horse Racing

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Indian Relay Celebrates History And Culture Through Horse Racing

Indian Relay Celebrates History And Culture Through Horse Racing

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. We're going to go west now to the Fort Hall reservation in Idaho, where every summer, Native American tribes celebrate their history and culture through horse races. They're known as Indian relays. Tribes call them America's first extreme sport. From member station KUER, Nate Hegyi sent this postcard.

NATE HEGYI, BYLINE: It's a windy, hazy summer morning on the Snake River Plain in Southeastern Idaho. Trevor Beasley is hanging out near his horse trailer.

TREVOR BEASLEY: Throw them down real easy.

HEGYI: It's about an hour before the Indian Relay races begin, and he's watching as a teammate gets a little too close to his favorite mare.

BEASLEY: Got to watch out for her. She's a kicker.

HEGYI: His teammate jumps out of the way, laughing.

BEASLEY: That's your warning right there, man.

HEGYI: The mare's name is As Thunder Rolls. She's a tall, muscled animal - perfect for Indian Relay racing. And the kicking, Beasley says, is pretty normal.

BEASLEY: She's like that - feisty; fighter, man.

HEGYI: And you've got to be a fighter if you want to race in Indian relays. In them, jockeys leap onto a different bareback horse not once, not twice but three times as they race around a track.

BEASLEY: The ride, the speed, the love of the horse, the power.

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

LAGRANDE COBY: That's what we survived on.

HEGYI: LaGrande Coby is president of the Fort Hall Indian Relay Association. And he says western tribes relied on horses for almost everything.

COBY: Gathering our food back in the day, traveling from different reservations to different reservations.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HEGYI: Today, about a hundred Indian Relay fans are sitting in Fort Hall Reservation's rodeo bleachers, sipping Coke and eating barbecue. The rodeo track begins filling with horses and men wearing neon jerseys with bright-colored ribbons attached. The jockeys get ready.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN BLOWING)

HEGYI: And they're off, racing around the dirt track. Dust flies up from the horses' hooves as the riders whip the animals.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORSES GALLOPING)

HEGYI: It's a windy day. Grass and hayseed 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. And this is when things get chaotic. A man is knocked down, and one animal even takes off without a rider.

(CROSSTALK)

HEGYI: 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 the third horse in the last leg of the race.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORSES GALLOPING)

HEGYI: A team called Cedar Ridge wins.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: The Indian Relay - Cedar Ridge (unintelligible).

HEGYI: Trevor Beasley watched the race from the sidelines.

BEASLEY: Pride is what it really means around here. A lot of people take pride in it.

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

For NPR News, I'm Nate Hegyi in Fort Hall, Idaho.

(SOUNDBITE OF ENNIO MORRICONE'S "THE SICILIAN CLAN")

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