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It’s skiing … with horses

Just when you think you’ve seen it all on snow, along comes skijoring.

It’s a cross between horse racing, cross-country skiing, downhill gate racing and, well, water skiing.

Hmmm.

The sport is a “competition where a horse and rider pull a skier at a fast pace through a course that has gates, jumps and rings,” according to the website for the U.S. granddaddy Leadville Ski Joring event. “The skier is timed through the course, and penalties are assessed by missing gates or jumps and by missing or dropping any of the rings.”

This hybrid activity is coming to New Mexico for the first time with a competition in Red River on Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s taken over my life for the past several months,” said event organizer Jodee Thayer, who got the idea rolling.

Since the event is being conducted in town, she had to convince officials to give it their blessing and to cough up some lodgers’ tax money to help offset initial costs.

The Leadville group is bringing its timing and gate equipment, so that helped offset startup costs significantly, Thayer said.

“The skijoring community is excited about having another event,” she said. “They’ve been very supportive.”

And some of the top competitors are planning to attend, Thayer said, with about 40 participants expected. “The established events get about 50, so we’re hoping for about 40,” she said.

Some of those competitors will be local first-timers who just want to see what it’s all about.

There’s been a big push throughout the area to encourage competitors, as well as spectators, to get involved.

Local resident Paulette Kiker, whose family owns three businesses in town, said her family has gotten involved with the event.

“We’re doing it to basically support the town,” she said. “We’re business owners in Red River and we want the event to be a success.”

Her husband, who runs Kiker Construction, used a company Bobcat to create jumps in the family’s pasture.

“We’ve invited friends over,” she said. “And we’re practicing towing skiers behind horses. It’s a lot of fun, but a little scary. I’m probably the mom of the bunch. Everybody else is going all out.”

Seth Hardy of nearby El Rito is planning on going all out, even though this is a first for him.

“I grew up both riding horses and skiing,” he said. “This combines two things I grew up doing and still do. I train horses and teach skiing at Red River Ski Area.”

Hardy plans on being in the front as the rider and has recruited several of the area’s top skiers to pair up with him.

“I was looking for partners who I knew are really good skiers,” Hardy said. “It is a competition. There’s actual award money So you want a fast horse and a good skier.”

But even more important than the competition aspect is what the event can do for the town, Hardy said.

“It’s given the community something else to do. It’s kind of bringing the community together. Instead of everybody going their own way when the day is over, they’re hanging out together more.”

Creating more community support and drawing more tourists to town was a definite factor in creating the event, Thayer said.

But skijoring is also very much in keeping with the town’s Wild West flavor, as well.

“Established events get between 500 to 2,500 spectators a day,” Thayer said. “We’re not really sure what to expect, but we hope to get about 1,000. Leadville gets 5,000 a day. We’re not there, but we hope to surpass them someday.”

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