Skijoring: A Crazy Winter Sport

Posted in: Featured, Rodeo

One year ago, Amber West had never even heard of skijoring. Then a family friend asked if she wanted to compete in a local competition for a fundraising event. Just for fun, she and her husband, Zac, loaded up a couple of their ranch horses and gave it a shot.

“It was just super, super fun. Once we did it we were like ‘Oh my gosh, we’re so hooked!’” said West.

“Skijoring” is derived from a Norwegian word meaning “ski driving” and it involves a skier being pulled by a horse or some type of motorized vehicle. In this case, skijoring is a sport wherein a rider on a horse pulls a skier through an obstacle course. The skier must go over jumps, collect designated rings, and go through gates. It is a timed event, and time starts when the skier goes past the starting line and stops when they cross the finish line. Penalties are given if the skier misses a jump, ring or gate.

Ski Joring America is the sport’s main association. Most of the races take place in Montana, but they have a few sanctioned events in Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, and even Wisconsin. Several independent skijoring races have popped up in other locales as well, most often as part of a bigger festival or as a local fundraiser. Sundance, Wyoming holds a skijoring race down Main Street as part of the town’s annual Winter Festival. West competes in races near her family’s ranch in South Dakota.

Here, West pulls a skier through a course.

skijoring Photo Credit: Jessica Deering Photography

Skijoring America’s website recommends sharp-shoeing horses before competition, but the courses aren’t always slick and icy. Some venues bring in snow for the course, and it is groomed with a SnowCat. West said that in her first race, the snow felt just like dirt and wasn’t slippery at all.

“It’s not ice. It’s really like running on dirt. I just ran (my horse) barefoot. It wasn’t slick at all,” said West.

Plenty of long trotting and occasional breezing at home help prepare a horse for skijoring. Once at the competition, a little pre-race preparation helps the horse feel comfortable before pulling a skier over an obstacle course as fast as he can run.

“They let us ride down the course and let our horses get a feel of it before it starts. I long trotted and loped up and down the course and let them see the jumps and the piles of snow. Mostly I did it to let them feel the snow,” said West.

Her horses are also seasoned rodeo mounts, so the commotion of the crowd, the announcer’s voice over the loudspeaker, and other distractions didn’t bother them.

Skijoring is a unique combination of western sport horses and downhill skiers – two crowds that don’t often cross paths.

“Very few (of the skiers) are horse people. There was quite a few people from Deadwood that are on the ski patrol and ski instructors. The guy I pulled last year, had done skijoring for 15 or 16 years. He’s traveled around and done it quite a bit,” said West.

Skiers are an essential component of a skijoring team, though, and West cheerfully hands the credit over to her teammates.

“As a rider, you can’t really mess up. It’s all up to the skier,” said West.


Photo Credit: Jessica Deering Photography

The skier wraps the rope around his or her wrist, then lets go after crossing the finish line. The riders, called “pullers,” can either fasten the rope to a rigging behind their cantle or loop the cotton rope around their saddle horn. West uses the saddle horn method.

“I figure I have a little more control of the rope that way,” said West.

Each horse, rider and skier combination are counted as one team. Some events feature a pick one/draw one format similar to a jackpot team roping: Each rider shows up with a chosen partner, then receives another skier to compete with in the first round. After all teams compete in the first round, the fastest ones compete again in the short round.

West, her Paint horse Scooby, and skier Bruce Stott won a skijoring event last year.





Posted in: Featured, Rodeo

About Jolyn Young

Jolyn Young lives near Montello, NV with her cowboy husband and 3 small kids. For more, visit

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