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Suicide Race Tests Skill, Endurance
Two hundred years ago American Indian braves challenged each other to horse races across the open country. Later, cowboys raced on horse-back from butte to butte on the western plains in friendly competition. This kind of cross country horse race survives today and is experiencing a rebirth as a "suicide race".
"It's the only true American horse race," says Frank Kuntz, president of the Great Plains Suicide Riders Assn. "It's not a Kentucky Derby or an English steeple chase. It's a cross country race over natural terrain that tests the endurance and skill of both horse and rider."
The association was started a few years ago to standardize the rules and conditions for suicide races when they became a popular spectator sport. It now sanctions a half dozen races each year in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota.
One of the outstanding suicide races is run every September at the Long X Trail Ranch in Grassy Butte, N. Dak. The fifth annual race last year attracted 40 riders and 1,200 spectators. Riders compete for more than $6,000 in prize money.
Mery Wike, who operates Long X Trail Ranch and promotes the race, says, "Though it's a tough ride, everything is done to ensure the safety of horses and riders. It pits them against the elements. Our one-mile course has straightaways, hills, washes, gullies and a water hazard."
Riders and horses are trained and conditioned for the race, which is run by the rules of the Great Plains association. Rules require that horses be inspected for soundness before the race, that the track be inspected, and that eight judges monitor the race.
Riders usually wear jeans and shirts rather than fancy riding clothes because they encounter water and mud along the course. More riders have begun to wear safety helmets, but the rules don't require them. Also, some riders tape their horse's legs for the race.
The Long X Trail Ranch race is open class for men and women of ages 16 to 51. Riders under 18 must have parental consent. Riders draw lots and participate in one of the heats of five horses each. The fastest time takes a $2,500 prize, and there are cash prizes for second through tenth place.
"We had Appaloosas, quarter horses, thoroughbreds, and crossbreeds in this year's race," says Wike. "Many of the horses and riders specialize in suicide riding and race in all of the major races in our area.
"Top winner last year was Kent Bunting, Westbrook, Minn., with a time of 2:35.17. Two women, Felica Kuntz, Linton, N. Dak., and Lisa Schauer, Storden, Minn. placed 9th and 10th.
Last year's purse of $6,800 was the largest ever and came from donations by agricultural businesses and from the $75-per-horse entry fees.
The association plans some growth in the number of suicide races held, but wants to have only a few, high quality races that will attract the best riders and an increasing number of spectators.
For more information, contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Frank Kuntz, President, Great Plains Suicide Riders Assn., Rt. 1, Linton, N. Dak. 58552 (ph 701 782-4323).

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1984 - Volume #8, Issue #2