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MHA Indian Horse Relay gallops to thrilling ND State Fair debut

James Jackson/MDN MHA Indian Horse Relay riders put on an unforgettable show in their inaugural North Dakota State Fair appearance on Tuesday night at the Grandstand.

Making its inaugural appearance at the North Dakota State Fair on Tuesday night, the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara (MHA) Indian Horse Relay looked to expose attendees in the Grandstand to an exhilarating extreme sport associated with the tribes for generations.

When speaking with Kiera Fox, the Special Projects Assistant associated with the MHA Indian Horse Relay, she emphasized the ultimate goal of the event was rooted in introducing the community to an athletic competition that has a background stretching across tribal nations from the plains of the United States all the way to Canada.

“We want to represent our MHA Nation, bring visibility to our rich culture and heritage, and highlight our extreme sports indigenous athletes. As well, we want to showcase something that we see every day and share it with the community.”

Differing from more commonly recognized forms of horse racing, the MHA Indian Horse Relay relies on the diverse skills of multiple team members to earn a win.

Per information posted on the official North Dakota State Fair website, a team consists of four members: a rider, a mugger, and two holders, in addition to three horses.

Without the assistance of a saddle or stirrups, the riders mount their horses bareback at the stall while relying on the two holders to retain the other horses.

Upon completing the initial lap around the track, riders must quickly dismount their first horse and mount their second horse as seamlessly as possible. All the while, the mugger is tasked with the responsibility to corral the first horse.

After repeating the process to begin the third and final lap, it is a mad dash to the finish line to determine the winner of the heat.

For Tuesday night’s MHA Indian Horse Relay, it was decided to place the finish line in front of the grandstand to ensure that all in attendance had the opportunity to witness the winner cross the line.

Comprised of four qualifying heats leading up to the championship heat, Tuesday night’s MHA Indian Horse Relay wasted no time in providing the crowd with a taste of the athletic spectacle surrounding the sport.

Between heats, spectators were treated to performances by the MHA Native American Dancers. Returning once again after taking part in the 2021 North Dakota State Fair, the MHA Native American Dancers took the stage and captivated the crowd with an entrancing look into the bountiful heritage, tradition, and culture of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation and its people.

After the smoke cleared on the qualifying heats, five competitors would ultimately battle it out for the first-place trophy and the title of champion.

The championship heat was cram-packed with drama, beginning with a start that saw a horse decide to run in the wrong direction.

With a dominant showing, Goes Ahead Pretty would pull away to a commanding lead that translated into coasting across the finish line for the top prize.

Following behind Goes Ahead Pretty, High Medicine would battle for second place, followed by White Tail Express in third, Young Bear Express in fourth, and Old Elk with a respectable fifth place finish.

When looking forward to the years ahead, Fox is optimistic that the MHA Indian Horse Relay will become an annual staple on the state fair’s schedule.

Speaking in terms of what she hopes the MHA Indian Horse Relay achieves in the long run, Fox stated, “It’s great exposure for the MHA Nation and hopefully encourages tourism to the reservation where visitors can immerse themselves in our beautiful homelands, culture, and history.”

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