Yakama maintain wild horse race tradition

Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race

From: Native Times
By: ERIKA SCHULTZ, The Seattle Times

WHITE SWAN, Wash. (AP) – Teams from around the Northwest, including Washington and Oregon, took part this weekend in the 18th annual Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race at the White Swan rodeo grounds on the Yakama Nation.

18th annual Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race

18th annual Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race

Leon “Stinky” Heemsah, a Yakama-enrolled cowboy, started the competition in 1995 after 46 years of racing with his brothers. He retired after a string of injuries, including breaking seven ribs in Omak, breaking his arm in Pendleton and cracking his ankle in Reno.

“I got all busted up,” he said.

During the race, three-man teams – a mugger, a jockey and a shank man – attempt to saddle and ride an unbroken horse, aided only by a lead rope. Several teams compete at once with the goal of crossing the judge’s finish line.

“To be honest, I think my uncles are crazy,” said Karen Cunningham, one of the organizers.

During the two-day weekend event, cowboys and cowgirls also competed in wild cow races, ranch bronc riding and colt races for kids and teens. Several hundred people attended.

Throughout the years, the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race has helped keep Leon’s family of 14 siblings together, as well as honor his late siblings and mother.

“This is put on for them,” Leon said. “They loved the rodeo.”

At the beginning of the festivities, cowboys and cowgirls removed their hats and bowed their heads in tribute to the horse racers and organizers who have died. A tribal song reverberated across the dusty arena, and cowboys from around the Northwest raised their hands to the sun-filled sky.

Casey Heemsah, 29, another organizer, said there has been a decline in wild horse races in the past 10 to 15 years due to pressure from animal activists. The St. Paul Rodeo in Oregon canceled its wild horse race after horses collided.

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AUTHOR: Amber Barnes
  • Leilani Clark

    I have Choctaw blood and I find this very offensive. This is not how my great grandmother described taking care of their horses. Pathetic….. Teaching the young – nothing.

    October 14, 2013
  • mary Gardner

    This is cruel and I’d like to see it stopped!!!

    October 14, 2013
  • Ziggy Pope

    Now there are some ignorant “macho men”. Shame on them.

    October 14, 2013
  • Shirley Mix

    How many horses get hurt??

    October 14, 2013
  • Judy Wendt

    They say this mini-rodeo is important for “Keeping kids grounded and out of drugs” by engaging in this dangerous activity. What about playing basketball to keep kids grounded and away from drugs? Reservations in the west have B.A.D. tournaments, very popular events where different tribes compete by playing “rez ball.” Almost any kid can get onto a team – boys, girls, all ages. Baseball/softball is also popular – far more than using/abusing wild horses.

    October 14, 2013
  • sherriey

    ….my feelings on this is…those poor horses and the fear they must have felt! plus…what happens to them after this? as for ever wanting to make them into a good riding horse…after that…may be almost impossible…their fear of humans will be really enforced b/c of this barbaric introduction. i do not see a good future for them at all. so…what becomes of them? where are they now??
    on a meat truck heading for Mexico?

    October 14, 2013