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Copyright 2013 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


Skijoring — a Sport with Real


By Kelly Berk, RMR Staff Writer


February 2013 issue  

Skijoring - a Sport with Real Horsepower


      Spectators pack in closely — mostly for entertainment, possibly for warmth — aiming to get a glimpse at the skier being pulled by a tow rope attached to a horse running at a full gallop, and flinging bits of snow into the air and back at the skier.

Equine skijoring, the timed speed event gaining popularity around the United States , pairs agile, speed-bred horses with skilled skiers who maneuver their way over jumps and through slalom gates on either a straight, or U-shaped course. Another obstacle added at some tracks are rings hanging on a pole, which the rider or skier must grab during their timed run.

Runs are scored by the fastest times, and missed jumps, gates or rings result in penalties (seconds added to the time) for skijoring teams.

With the high speed factor and possibility of crashing, injuring either horse, rider, or skier, skijoring can be considered an extreme winter sport for the adrenaline junkies who enjoy it.

Sanctioned races focus on safety, requiring skiers to wear helmets, proper sun glasses or ski goggles, and ski boots that are fitted to the skier. Competitors must also use certified ropes to pull the skier.

Depending on the venue, some events will give youngsters the opportunity to test out their skijoring skills in junior classes.

Breeds built for speed are favored by most skijoring riders, including Quarter Horses, Appaloosas and Arabians, though a variety of breeds participate in the sport.

Horses that are trained in barrel racing and roping are popular due to their experience in quick starts and ability for maneuvering turns.          

Skijoring races can be found in areas including Montana , Idaho , Wyoming , Colorado and New Hampshire . Even Quebec , Canada , has joined in on the fun.

According to the North American Skijoring Association, or NASJA, Skijoring made its way to North America in the mid 1950’s, when ranchers attached long ropes to the saddle horn of their western saddles and pulled skiers at a gallop down long straight-aways.

Skijoring was part of the Whitefish, Montana , Winter Carnival in the 1960s. But from the 1970s until 2003, skijoring had a hiatus because, due to the high volume of skijoring injuries, insurance became hard to come by.

According to Whitefish’s skijoring website, the event was held downtown in the early years — a local businessman was nearly thrown through the window of the Toggery clothing store and a crowd of spectators had to avoid being run over by a couple runaway horses.

Skijoring made a comeback in Whitefish in 2003, when Scott Ping and Dale Duff organized a skijoring competition, which has become an annual event for the community.

In 2009, the organizers re-designated the event as the NASJA World Skijoring Championships, and it was become the largest equestrian skijoring event in the United States . The event features approximately $20,000 in cash and prizes.

This year, the Whitefish event was held on January 26-27, 2013, at the Whitefish Airport , just outside of town. Competitors tackle a U-shaped course, with horse and rider racing along the inside of the track, while a skier navigates his/her way through slalom gates and over jumps.

Also featured in Whitefish is a long jump, which consists of a horse and rider towing a skier straight ahead as quickly as possible, with the skier jumping for maximum distance.

To successfully complete the long jump, skiers must exhibit control upon landing and continue skiing. In 2011, the winning distance off of the ten-foot tall jump was 56 feet.

In upcoming years, Whitefish plans to feature both curved and straight tracks, giving athletes a chance to compete on two separate courses.

As the NASJA Western Regional President, Scott Ping of Whitefish, Montana , has helped out various towns throughout the West get skijoring races established.

Ping, who has been competing for thirteen years, has learned that properly shoeing his horse is important. Ping took a spill with his horse because he didn’t have shoes that were properly prepared for the slick track.  


Skijoring during Big Hole Valley ’s WInterfest & Skijoring, Wisdom, Montana . Photo by Rick Landry.  

Now Ping welds borium to the heels and toes of his horse’s shoes in order to improve traction on the skijoring course.

“Skijoring is a kick to do,” said Ping, who rides an Appendix Quarter Horse.

Sandpoint , Idaho , will be hosting a NASJA-sanctioned skijoring competition for the third consecutive year with help from a strong volunteer base, said Matt Smart, who is Sandpoint’s race director, as well as a skijoring competitor.

“I saw it and I just had to do it,” said Smart, who has been skijoring for four years.

The event in Sandpoint will be held February 16-17, 2013, at the fairgrounds.

With just four to six inches of snow needed for a good skijoring course, Smart noted that if there were a lack of snow at competition time, event organizers would haul it in and cover the track so the show could go on.

“Some of these people are pulling barrel racing times,” said Smart.

For the first time in more than ten years, Jackson , Wyoming will be holding a skijoring competition put on by the Shriner’s Club on February 23-24, 2013, with proceeds going to benefit the Shriner’s Hospital for children in Salt Lake City , Utah .

The event will take place on a straight track, about one-quarter mile in length, with six-foot jumps at an airstrip at Melody Ranch, just south of Jackson , Wyoming .

Jackson ’s event is NASJA sanctioned, and anticipated to bring in contestants throughout the Western states.

Additional 2013 sanctioned races will be held at the following locations: Bellevue , ID , on February 2-3, and Bozeman , MT , on February 15-17.

Non-sanctioned races will take place: in Gallatin Gateway, MT— February 2-3; Minturn , CO —February 23-24; Wisdom, MT—February 23-24; Leadville , CO —March 2-3; and Red Lodge, MT—March 8-10.

For more information on skijoring, call 406-261-7464, or visit



Equine Skijoring History and Equipment


      The word skijoring comes from “Skikjöring,” a Norwegian word derived from skik (ski) and jor (drive). It is sometimes spelled as two words.

      Scandinavians developed skijoring long ago, both as a means to travel in winter and as recreation. They used reindeer, dogs or a horse to pull a person on skis through snow on wooden cross country-style skis.  


Skijoring demonstration in Switzerland at the 1928 Winter Olympics.

      Modern equine skijoring in the U.S. and Canada have a few variations.

      For cross-country skijoring, either a harnessed horse or saddled and ridden horse is hitched with quick-release snaps to one or two ropes attached to a water-skiing style tow rope. The skier’s ski tips should be at least six feet or more in back of the horse. Short cross-country skis are commonly used.

      During competitive speed skijoring a saddled horse (or mule) with rider pulls a skier either over a straight quarter mile course usually with slalom jumps or through a snow obstacle course of gates and jumps at high speed.

      Equipment needed for competitive skijoring:


    Borium-tipped horseshoes to keep the horse from slipping in the snow and ice – or barefoot.


    If the horse is shod, a pad between the hoof and shoe to keep snow from packing inside the hoof.


    Bell and splint boots on all four feet.


    Western saddle with a breast collar.


    A 10-foot length of 1/4- to 3/8-inch diameter rope that is secured to the gullet or horn, passed under the stirrup leathers and snugged tightly behind the cantle -- where a loop is tied for the tow rope’s carabineer attachment. Occasionally the loop rope is secured behind the cantle to D-rings.


    A 50-foot tow rope is provided by the competition committee.


Skijoring racing in Europe .


Copyright 2013 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;

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