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.
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.
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.
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.
A closer look at the chariot and another team raced by Betty and John
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.
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.
And, finally, one last photo to illustrate how very different life in Wyoming is from life in Indiana:
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.