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Getting back behind the horse

Ian Cropp
Vail CO, Colorado
SPO Ski joring TS 02-04-08
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EAGLE, Colorado ” Dana Stiles doesn’t ski, but the first time she tried skijoring, she

was hooked.

“The sport is so unique,” Stiles said. “I was born and raised in this state and have never skied a day in my life, and most skiers don’t ride horses. You are taking two completely different worlds and bringing them together.”



Skijoring ” a sport that involves a horse or dogs pulling a person on skis

through a course ” is charging through the high country in the next few weeks



The spectator-friendly event has been a mainstay in Leadville but only an on-and-off happening in Eagle County, along with the rest of Colorado. With a pair of races in Eagle this weekend and a pair at 4 Eagle Ranch next weekend then the Leadville race early in March, established riders like Stiles and newcomers alike are whetting their appetites.

“I’m thrilled, especially since the two are really close, and I don’t have to board my horses,” said Stiles, a top national rider from Eagle. “And the spectator part of it ” anybody who hasn’t ever seen it before gets hooked. It’s a hoot.”

Last weekend, some rookies giving skijoring a shot turned out at the Vancampen Ranch in Eagle for runs on a full-length course.



“I’ve seen it a couple times in Leadville. It looked so crazy, and I always wondered what it would be like,” said Ray Dixon, of Edwards. “(My coworker) Jessy Biggins said it would be a moderate course and good for practice, so I said, ‘What the heck, may as well check it out.'”

Biggins, a seasoned rider and skier who has won top national races, was happy to get in some practice, as he’ll be competing in the higher-level open division this weekend.

“Being able to do the course before you ride is great,” he said. “In Leadville, they build the course the night before.”

And Dan Eckert, who made the course and will be hosting the race, enjoyed watching all the new guys out there.

“We’re trying to get some more skiers involved,” Eckert said. “It seems like we’re losing skiers, and in this valley, it seems like we’d be able to recruit a few. That’s why we are doing more events, to get them involved and trying to carry it to Leadville.”

All three events will feature two days of races and the traditional Calcutta, where spectators can wager on teams. Along with the open divisions at the Eagle and 4 Eagle Ranch venues, there also will be a sport division.

The open and sport divisions race different sections of the course, with the open division featuring larger jumps. In all races, the skiers are pulled behind a horse on a rope and navigate through set markers while collecting rings on a metal rod. Teams with the top times ” penalties are awarded for missing rings ” win the

competition.

“If you’re not planning your next move, you’re late, and once you’re late, you’re done,” Biggins said.

For those looking to compete, registration for Eagle and 4 Eagle Ranch races run from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday with the races kicking off at noon. The Eagle race fee is $70 per team per day and $35 for a rider or skier. All proceeds benefit the Eagle Little Britches Rodeo. The 4 Eagle Ranch race fees are $70 per team per day and $35 for a rider or skier in the sport division ($90 or $45 for open) and proceeds benefit 4H.

The event is free for spectators.

“We’d enjoy having people come out,” Eckert said. “If they’ve never seen it before, hopefully they’ll enjoy what they see. And we challenge some of the skiers ” if they think they are good skiers. This is kind of an extreme sport.”

During last weekend’s practice sessions, skiers got their first digs behind a snowmobile in a run-through and then at a faster speed.

“You can’t run (the horses) all day,” Biggins said. “They have about two good runs or else you’re overworking them. As many skiers as we have, we don’t have enough horses here, so we use (snowmobiles) to compensate. There is a big difference, though. A horse is more steady.”

Colby Childers, a Battle Mountain High School ski racer, took some test runs behind a snowmobile.

“This is awesome. My friends and I have always talked about it. I was kind of shaking at the end, but I want to do it again,” said Childers, who wasn’t quite ready to get behind a horse. “Not yet. Maybe if I go faster with the snowmobile, then I’ll be ready.”

On his second day, Dixon was getting the hang of it.

“I was a little nervous when I showed up (Saturday), but after you get to do it, it’s not as frightening as it looks. You go off the jumps and get the rings, and after a few times, you get the rhythm of it,” he said. “I’m hoping to be able to get all the jumps and nail all the rings today so I’ll be able to do the race.”

Humans aren’t the only ones who practice, either.

“That’s what’s nice about having a practice track, even if a horse hasn’t done it before, you can bring them out and they get a chance to look at it and figured it out,” Stiles said. “When they figured it out, they get excited, and it’s hard to stage them sometimes. They know they are going to run.”

Samantha Eckert, a young rider who will be competing this weekend, brought a first-time horse out last weekend.

“It helps him get used to the skiers, so he’s not afraid of them,” she said. “(On Saturday) he was afraid of the skiers, but today he’s not.”

Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.


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