Photos courtesy Calvin Ghost Bear
If you thought flat-track horse racing was an adrenaline rush, you haven’t seen Indian relay.
Harkening from Native American traditions that go back to buffalo hunts and tribal warfare, Indian relay combines speed, athleticism and horsemanship in a nail-biting race against the clock. Teams feature a single jockey, three horses and several horse handlers—the riders race around the track bareback, meeting up with their handlers to switch horses two times in this heart-pumping sport.
Recently, Lakota War Path—an acclaimed Indian relay team with close Paint ties—took home the sport’s world championship title. The team is managed by APHA racing committee member Calvin Ghost Bear and his family, and several American Paint Horses have helped the team earn prominence in the discipline. In September, they took second in a 30-team field at the Professional Indian Horseracing Association All Nations Indian Relay Championships in Sheridan, Wyoming.
“These are events that were handed down,” the horseman from Oglala, South Dakota, said. “Over time, Indian relay has gotten popular because of the extreme conditions and some of the risk you take in racing those horses.
“These guys take the chance just like a jockey at a flat track would, but they don’t have a safety helmet or vest. Here on the plains and in South Dakota, the Ogallala Sioux pride ourselves on the warrior mentality, the warrior spirit. It’s all or nothing for these guys—they leave it all out there.”
Calvin and his family have long been involved in Paint racing, and they raise and race their own Paints in both flat track and Indian relay competitions. His horses’ chrome coats stand out in stark contrast to the Thoroughbred ex-racehorses preferred by many other Indian relay teams.
“We love Paints and Paint racing,” Calvin said. “Ours are appendix-bred Paints—we’ve found that by crossbreeding good Paint Horses with Thoroughbreds, you get a better horse than running a straight Thoroughbred. A lot of guys want to buy horses from us.”
Among the Paints that have helped propel Lakota War Path to success have been:
– Steals The Thunder, a 2010 bay tobiano stallion by Suchanimage and out of Rainbow Card (TB), a four-race winner of $39,500
– Mambo Again, a 2009 chestnut solid Paint-bred stallion by Country Quick Dash and out of Mambo Queen, a Mr. Prospector (TB) granddaughter.
– Sucha Round Dance, a 2010 bay solid Paint-bred mare by Suchanimage and out of Verda (TB)
“It’s fun to see these Thoroughbred-bred Paints running these Thoroughbreds down on the back side—it’s very exciting for the crowd,” Calvin said. “Even the announcer notices the Paint Horses.”
This Litle Hero Son has enjoyed a good career on the track, but he’ll soon be getting a shot at Indian relay, too, Calvin says. The 2009 sorrel solid Paint-bred stallion by Texas Hero and out of Cranky Cranky (TB) has a 2-4-3 record in 14 starts.
“He’s got some good speed and we’re going to give him a shot at running Indian relay in 2015,” Calvin said. “We’ll probably use him as a first horse.”
A true family endeavor, Calvin appreciates the support of his family, especially during Lakota War Path’s world championship season.
“I’d like to thank all of our supporters for all of their prayers—my wife, Carla, my sons Don and Tony, my brother Tommy, my mom and my nieces and nephews. It didn’t matter where the races were—they were there,” Calvin said. “And I also want to thank Jamie and Dr. Wendy Howard—if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have had the mare power we started with to have these horses that we’re running today. It all started with them.”
Though the Indian relay season is done for 2014, Calvin encourages anyone who loves racing and adrenaline-fueled excitement to make plans to see Indian relay in person. He hopes Indian relay will one day be featured at major tracks like Remington Park in Oklahoma City or Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas—for now, however, races can be found throughout Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas—and even in Canada and Florida. Visit professionalindianhorseracingassociation.com to learn more.
“The sooner you can get to one of these races, the better,” Calvin said. “It will blow your mind!”