Traditional Native Games
Horse Culture

The life of the Plains Indians changed dramatically around the early 1700's, when the Dog Days transitioned when the big, four-footed animals came to the tribes and the Elk Dog "ponokamita" was adopted into tribal cultures.

Integrating the horse into the native way of life came with a deep understanding of the animal, including their habitat, behavior and spirituality.  The horse rapidly became important to securing food, transportation and territory.  Games that were played during the Dog Days transitioned onto horseback.  For example: Foot and Horse Race, Hoop and Staff, Horse and Hide and many other games became popular with all Plains tribes.  As the respect for the horse grew, Horse Medicine Bundles and ceremonies were adopted to honor this new relative.

As western encroachment forced tribes onto reservations and depleted the buffalo herds, the use of Elk Dog changed to farming, ranching, rodeo and spirituality. The Elk Dog, soon became an important tool in the survival of all tribes.  But still the enjoyment of horse events continued into modern times.  Today horse relays, rodeos, and horse medicine ceremonies are an integral part of the tribal way of life.

Quotes from our first Horse Clinic - January, 2011: 

  • Lana Crying Head, Blood Tribe: “The most important segment of the clinic was the aspects of what we lost (relationship with horse), and how we as individuals can gain it back for our homes and communities.”
  • Karyn Gagnon, Metis: “The clinic provided me with a comfortable pace for learning and for allowing the horses, as well as the trainers, to teach us.  It was a good balance between knowledge and practicality."
  • Charlane Star Light, Nakoda Stoney Nation: “To me, the camaraderie that developed among the participants was important.”
  • Jim Mason, Calgary: Of great value: "Understanding the healing power of the horse and the way the horse brought people together then and now.  The horse was friend and relative.”   
  • Carol Mason, Executive Director - Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary:  (excerpts taken from a follow-up message)  "All is going well with the horse training. We have about 30 students attending every Tuesday night! A good turn out. I will be talking with you fine folk on the Level II Horse Culture Training... Right now we are just getting the kids used to riding. And boy, do they love it!"

Youth_Horse_Riders

Horse Games

Night Shirt Race: Speed race where the bareback rider races from the start line 200 yards to a point where they dismount to pick up and put on a ribbon shirt, then remount the horse and ride back to the starting line. 

Slowest Horse Race: Each rider brings their slowest horse to the race and swaps mounts before the race begins. Riders draw for the horse they ride. Eight horses with riders then line up at the start line. When the race begins the slowest horse (not the rider) is the winner. Horses will be disqualified if they stop on the track – all horses must be moving at all times. Riders ride bareback but may use any type bridle the horse owner provides for the mount. 

Horse and Rider Rescue: Teams of two -- rider and rescue rider -- participate in this race. To begin the race, bareback riders line up in the starting gate. When the race begins, the rider rides 200 yards where a rescue rider has been stationed beyond the turnaround line. When the rider stops his horse, he reaches down and assists the rescue rider to double mount and races to the finish line with the rescued rider double riding. 

Ladies Race: Women wearing a ribbon dress race their horses for ½ mile riding bareback. Bridles may be used. 

Chief's Race: Men wearing their own traditional headpiece, race bareback for ½ mile. Bridles may be used. 

Little Chief/Maiden Race: Children (8-13 years of age) race bareback for ½ mile. Boys must wear their own traditional headpiece. Girls must wear a ribbon dress. Bridles may be used. 

Ladies Relay Race: Race involves women wearing a ribbon dress riding bareback around the ½ mile track three times changing horses after each lap. There will be seven riders per heat. The riders will change horses three times. The women may be boosted onto the fresh horse, but must totally dismount to the ground (both feet touching the ground) before switching horses. 

Men's Relay Race: Race involves teams consisting of 3 horses and 4 men – a rider, a mugger (who stops the horse at each horse switch); exchange holder (who holds the fresh horse); backholder (who takes away the spent horse). The length of the race is 3 times around the ½ mile track. The bareback riders, wearing a ribbon shirt, mount the horses from a standing position, race to the next horse, completely dismount (both feet touching the ground momentarily) then switching horses. Any rider boosted to the new mount will be disqualified. 

Youth co-ed Relay Race: Race involves teams consisting of 3 horses and 4 participants – a rider, a mugger (who stops the horse at each horse switch); exchange holder (who holds the fresh horse); backholder (who takes away the spent horse). The length of the race is 3 times around the ½ mile track. The bareback riders, wearing a ribbon shirt, mount the horses from a standing position, race to the next horse, completely dismount (both feet touching the ground momentarily) then switching horses. Any rider boosted to the new mount will be disqualified. 

Youth Horse & Hide Race: Race involves teams consisting of 1 horse and 2 participants - horse rider and hide rider. Hide riders sprint from the starting line approximately 50 yards and mount the hide attached to the horse by a lariat. The horse rider then drags the hide rider to the finish line. Horses must be saddled. Hide riders must wear gloves, helmets and eye/mouth protection. 

Endurance Horse-Foot-Canoe Race: Race involves a team of one horse and a two-person team (a competitor and backholder). The race begins with the competitor racing bareback from the designated starting point to the backholder. Then the competitor runs a specified distance to staged canoes on the shoreline. The competitor paddles the canoe to a designate buoy, circles it and returns to shore and drags the canoe to the finish line. The horses must be ridden bareback, but a bridle may be used. The canoes must be dragged over the finish line. The horses may not run loose. The competitor must wear properly attached life preserver while in the canoe. 

Co-ed Youth Foot & Horse Race Race involves a two person team -- 1 runner/rider and a horse holder. Participant runs 1/4 mile then rides 1/2 mile around the track. Horses must be bareback, bridle allowed. 

Adult Hoop and Staff Race: Race involves the rider riding down the side of posts spearing the hoops from the extensions. He/she rounds the last post and rides down the other side spearing rings on the opposite side and then returns to the finish. The rider must use the staff to spear the rings and carry them to the finish line. Points will be awarded for speed, number of speared hoops and colors of hoops. One competitor at a time will run the race. 

Child Hoop and Staff Race: Race involves the rider riding down the side of posts spearing the hoops from the extensions. He/she rounds the last post and rides down the other side spearing rings on the opposite side and then returns to the finish. The rider must use the staff to spear the rings and carry them to the finish line. Points will be awarded for speed, number of speared hoops and colors of hoops. One competitor at a time will run the race. 






 
Honoring & Teaching Traditional Native Games
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