Sport 101: Equestrian Skijoring

Dashing through the snow…

It’s about this time of year in Australia that many of us, hosing down our sweaty horses, look longingly towards Europe, and the cold weather. So if you want a break from the heat and are looking for a thrilling equestrian sport, Skijoring could be your thing, writes Dannii Cunnane.

Originating from Norway, Equestrian Skijoring has a rider on horseback galloping along snow-covered ground while pulling a skier behind them who navigates a series of jumps and obstacles. Originating as a winter transportation method,t soon became a competitive sport and was demonstrated at the 1928 Winter Olympics in Switzerland.

The equipment is simple – a rider uses a Western or English saddle that has a single tow-rope attached behind it. The rider controls the speed and steering of the horse while the skier is pulled along and holds onto the tow-rope (which can be modified water skiing equipment) and uses short skis to cut through the snow.

Competitions in Europe and America are popular for spectators and competitive teams alike. There are two types of courses to compete on, the straight and the horse-shoe shaped.

The straight course is aimed for the horse to gallop through at full speed in the middle of the course with the skier navigating slalom gates (poles that must be gone around) and jumps ranging from three to nine feet high, set on either side of the track. To add to the level of difficulty, the skier is also required to grab one or more rings as they ski past a specific area.

The horseshoe shaped course allows the horse to gallop on the inside of the track while the skier navigates slalom gates and jumps ranging from four to six feet high.

The World Skijoring Championship is the most popular competition and has been held annually in Montana in the USA, since 2009. The largest purse won so far has been US$19,580 and the competition on that occasion attracted 91 teams. In 2011 the championship featured the ‘Murdoch’s Long Jump’ competition as a separate class, where a horseman pulls a skier straight ahead as fast as possible with the skier jumping for maximum distance and landing upright on the flat.

While this is a thrilling sport, it’s not for the faint-hearted but you don’t have to be a competitor to try it. In some parts of Europe and America there are seasonal schools offering a taste of the sport without the jumps and obstacles and the horse moves at a much slower pace.

While Skijoring is also a sport that uses dogs and motorised equipment, we think the equine involved bumps the thrill level through the roof. Find out more about this amazing sport on the World Championship website.

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