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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Go Fast, Sweet Chariot

After our day in the Tetons, we spent the night of September 23, in Dubois, Wyoming. The next morning, we had breakfast at the cafe next door to the motel. Our waitress, Betty, was a slender, soft-spoken young woman who was sporting an enormous belt buckle...the kind that are sometimes given as awards in rodeo events. We asked about it, and Betty said she had won it. We asked what event she had competed in.
 
Most of you will be as amazed as we were at her answer. It was chariot racing.

It seems that chariot racing is a very popular winter sport in the western United States. Of course, that encounter with Chariot-Racing Betty sent me to the internet to do a little research. What I learned made me want to do a blog post about the subject. Betty and her husband, John, graciously provided me with some photos with which to illustrate the post.

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That's Betty driving the team on the right.

According to my research, chariot (cutter) racing was begun in the 1920s as a way to pass the time during the long, cold winters. Cutter racing is said to have originated on the main street in Thayne, Wyoming when the dairy farmers would bring their milk to the creamery and make bets on who had the fastest set of work horses. As the competition grew they would bring their saddle horses to run and eventually went to smaller sleds known as cutters. Over time chariot racing became more sophisticated and the sleds were replaced by lightweight cutters, which were basically chariots on skis. When there wasn’t enough snow for the cutters, it was trucked in for special events.

To alleviate the need for snow, the cutters’ skis were replaced with wheels, and they later evolved into high-tech aluminum and fiberglass chariots with shocks that can be adjusted to track conditions.  Each team has two horses pulling a chariot, and two or three teams run a straight quarter-mile race in about 22 seconds, or at roughly 50 miles an hour.

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Chariot racing is not for the faint of heart. As in harness racing, horses can spook and turn over the chariot, reins can get caught on equipment, and chariots can drift into one another and crash. It’s a dangerous sport.

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Quarter Horses, Paint Horses, and Appaloosas dominate the sport because of the short racing distance, and their breed associations have approved chariot racing as an activity that earns points and recognition within their breeds.

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A closer look at the chariot and another team raced by Betty and John

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The thrill of victory...Betty was awarded this hand-blown glass trophy for winning the Norman Epler Memorial Race, held each Presidents' Day weekend in Saratoga, Wyoming. Betty and John have each won one of these highly coveted trophies.

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Racing partners...and friends, too
 
John and Betty allowed me to choose from a huge selection of pictures that included both of them in races. I opted to narrow it down to a select few photos that featured Betty, since she was the one who first introduced me to the subject of chariot racing and since her slight build and gentle spirit made her seem an unlikely participant in the sport.

Still, it didn't seem right to leave John out completely.
 
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And, finally, one last photo to illustrate how very different life in Wyoming is from life in Indiana:

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It's been a pleasure getting acquainted with John and Betty. I hope our paths cross again.

Thanks to Hilary at The Smitten Image for including this post as a Post of the Week.

POTW-celery[1]

31 comments:

  1. Chariot racing? Well, you've got to do something when it gets cold.

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    1. Stephen, that was the same reaction Doug and I had. :)

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  2. oh, i like her already! she was really generous to share her sport and photos with you. BEAUTIFUL horses! what a thrill that must be!

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    1. We liked her right away, too, Theresa. She has a sweet smile, doesn’t she?

      I didn’t think to ask her name when we were at the restaurant that day. Later, when I decided to do the blog post, I called the café and got her boss. I explained who I was and that I’d like to talk with the waitress who races chariots. She wasn’t working that day, but he said he would give her my message. And he told me her name was Betty. Well, I waited a week or longer and didn’t hear from her. I figured she thought I was some sort of stalker. So I wrote her a note, which I sent to the cafe, and included my personal name, address, and e-mail, as well as my blog address so that she could see if it was something she’d feel comfortable with. The day she received the note, she e-mailed me and invited me to friend both her and her husband on Facebook so that I could choose what I wanted from their Facebook photo albums.

      I’d like to see her race someday, but Wyoming is so far away...and in winter, no less. Don’t you love how the pickup trucks just line up along the track to watch the races? Those folks know how to enjoy the winter.

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  3. Linda, that was so fascinating! How generous of Betty & John to share their stories and photos with you. The horses are beautiful and the sport sounds exhilarating, even if dangerous. What a great post!!!

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    1. Thanks, Gail. We were just so surprised to learn that chariot racing was alive and well in the United States...and then to learn that our feminine little waitress was a participant in it...I thought some of my fellow bloggers might find it interesting, too.

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  4. What a fascinating post, Linda! Thank you so much for sharing!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Linda. It was a fun post to do.

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  5. i would love to give this a try, I have never seen it before

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    1. Ah, Steve. I feel rewarded just to have come up with something you didn't know about. :)

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  6. I haven't seen any chariot racing in my part of the Western United States! Thanks for the interesting post. You learn something new everyday, especially if you read blogs!

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    1. Hi, Kim. Thanks so much for visiting and leaving a comment. I'm not surprised that you hadn't heard of chariot racing. I would have felt pretty foolish if I was the only one who didn't know about it. :)

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  7. Chariot racing, how interesting...Never heard of it and for a little gal like like Betty to do the sport, I must hand it to her! Looks like it would be fun to WATCH :) That was so nice of Betty to share her sport and pictures with you! Loved the one of her with the moose!

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    1. I thought you'd enjoy this one, Diane. Makes you want to visit Wyoming during the winter, doesn't it? If you look closely at the moose picture, you can see the rear end of another animal...probably a mule deer. John and Betty must live in wild country.

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    2. Yes, we would love to go back...not sure about a return visit in the winter! It took Terry and I a while to see the back side of that other animal! As you said it was probably a mule deer. Terry says he usually doesn't see THAT end of a deer very often, being the keen shot he is :)

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  8. Who would have 'thunk' it????? Little did I know that they have chariot races there in the winter.... Gosh ---that is new to me!!!!! I'm sure you enjoyed meeting Betty --and learning her story.

    Hugs,
    Betsy

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    1. It sure surprised ME, Betsy. Glad to see I'm not the only one.

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  9. I had no idea that chariot racing went on in this day and age. Thank you for a very interesting post.

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    1. Welcome to the "I Didn't Know" Club, George. :)

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  10. What a different lifestyle... Their photos from races are great but most of all I like the last picture, every part of it.

    Linda, you seized the opportunity and wrote a great post, it's very interesting.

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    1. Thanks, Petra. That photo of Betty with the moose is really something, isn't it? I'm so glad you enjoyed the post.

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  11. What a cool sport. I'm sure a race would be fascinating to watch.. particularly for a horse-lover as yourself. Maybe you'll take it up as a hobby... ;) Great post, my friend.

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    1. Hilary, I can't see me driving a chariot down a dirt and possibly snow-covered track at 50 miles per hour. But I wouldn't mind watching Betty do it. ;)

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  12. Thank You Linda, great presentation of our sport!

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    1. Thanks so much, John and Betty. We so enjoyed our brief meeting. This was a really fun post to write, and your help with it was much appreciated.

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  13. Great blog!! John and Betty are really good people. Chariot racing is a really fun sport to watch.

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    1. Thanks so much for visiting, Jake. I was hoping to meet some of John and Betty's friends through this post. I just checked out your blog, and it looks very interesting. I'll be back.

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  14. Wow! Neat post. And to think it all started with your curiosity over a belt buckle.

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    1. Thanks, Kerry. In this case no cats were harmed by curiosity. :)

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