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The Pretty Young Man relay team made their debut appearance at the Calgary Stampede last week, showcasing the sport alongside four other teams.
The team has been operating since 2019 and had a singular full season together before the onset of COVID-19 put the world on pause.
Jason Doord, who owns the horses and manages the team, said the sport has a growing community, with competitions popping up all over western Canada and the United States.
The Pretty Young Man team also consists of Tyler Leather (Warrior), Jarrett Pretty Young Man (Mugger and team Captain), Brooker Pretty Young Man (Setter), Rufus Pretty Young Man Jr (Back Holder), and Rufus Pretty Young Man Sr., who trains and doctors the horses.
Doord added each team is unique in their uniform regalia, and how they paint their horses.
“All the teams paint their horses in their own style. I like to put some of my teepee designs on my horse,” he said. “Some of the paint will reflect … certain symbols, certain stripes to represent when they go buffalo hunting, there’s some paintings so the horse runs safely … for safe return, so the horse can see, [etc].”
The Pretty Young Man team makes a point to paint the initials ZB on the shoulders of their horses to honour the late son of their primary sponsor, Gordon Red Crow.
Similarly, the Calgary Stampede first began showcasing relays in 2019.
The sport involves a team of four working with three horses throughout a heat. Each team has one rider who will challenge a course riding bareback, while the rest of the team works to control the horses at the start line.
After each lap, the Warrior (Jockey) will jump from one horse to another and take off again.
A team’s Setter is responsible for preparing the next horse for the switch, the Mugger will try to catch the previous horse from the Warrior after the switch, and the Back Holder manages the resting horse.
Hazards through the duration of the race include the risk of the warrior falling off his horse at any time, or the horses may become confused and try to run in uncontrolled directions.
Red Crow said he agreed to sponsor the team for $5,000 this season to help them cover the costs of travel and operating after they approached him to ask for help.
“They did approach me because they are involved with the Siksika Buffalo’s Senior AA Ranchland Hockey Team – I was sponsoring them and I decided to go into more of a cultural side, which (is) Indian Relay and (it) just benefited my company more,” he said. “Now is the first time I’ve been approached by a cultural sport.”
Doord explained the sport is culturally significant, as Siksika have always held close relationships with horses.
“We’ve always been known as the horse people,” said Doord. “We connect with the horse. This way, we like to showcase the athletic ability of the warriors (who) ride the horses.”
He added he hopes the relay, which dates back over a century, will become a recognized competition at the Stampede with more teams coming out to compete, and more heats for racers to participate in.
John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times