Like most horse sports that have evolved from practical applications – eg. Rodeo which developed from bragging competitions between neighbouring ranches – the sport of Ski Joring emerged several hundred years ago in Scandinavia as a way for people to travel during the harsh and snowy winter months. Towed behind reindeer on long wooden skis, these early travellers found Ski Joring - or “ski driving” - a useful and practical mode of transport and communication.
The sport – involving horses – has been practiced for over 100 years at St. Moritz (Switzerland), where each winter a horse sport carnival known as "White Turf" – including flat racing, show jumping, Ski Joring and polo – is held on the frozen St. Moritz lake. The favoured race is the Credit Suisse Samedan Skijoring Grand Prix, where a skier is pulled at speeds up to 60 km per hour across the snow by a rider-less thoroughbred. The frozen St. Moritz Lake, surrounded by the awesome mountains of the Engadine, has been home to the unique sport of skijoring for 100 years, and Credit Suisse has been the principal sponsor of White Turf and the skijoring Grand Prix for 16 years.
By the mid 1950's, skijoring found its way across North America, where ranchers attached a long rope to the saddle horn of a horse that was ridden at high speeds down a long straight-away, towing a skier behind them.
The North American Ski Joring Association was developed in 1991 and for the first time in history, equestrian Ski Joring became a sanctioned sport. There is a circuit of sanctioned events where competitors can earn points that will go toward a National Championship Award.
Currently, the sport of equestrian Ski Joring has become a highly specialized competitive sport, where competitors must navigate a course of jumps, gates and sometime spear rings. Competitive Ski Joring competitions are currently taking place in more than five states in the USA, and in several countries worldwide. In some parts of the world, skiers are pulled behind dogs, mules and snowmobiles. Whatever the means, the sport of Ski Joring is growing rapidly.
A progression from Ski Joring is Horse Surfing where snow is simply swapped for water. Developed by a group of British trick horse riders in 2005 the sport is in its infancy. The combined group – Comprising The Independent Horse and The Company Of Horsemen and now known as The British Horsesurfing Club – were the first in the world to tow a kite board from a ridden horse and later to tow a kite board whilst the rider performed tricks from the saddle at the same time.
Provided your local beach permits horses on the foreshore Horsesurfing is a sport that should gain rapid popularity in Australia. If you love a mad gallop through the shallows and fancy sharing the experience with a water-loving friend then this is certainly a fun and inexpensive way to spend an afternoon.
Horse Pulling is another sport that has evolved from practical applications. Where horses were once traditionally used in daily farm life – ploughing, mowing, clearing lands etc – horse pulling developed a competitive life as farmers bragged about the hauling capacity of their heavy horse friends. "I bet my horse can pull more than yours can". Then to prove it, the neighbour would take him up on that bet and soon there would be some competition between several farmers. And so on. Forget monster trucks and guys who pull steam engines this is the real horse power. Some massive weights have been recorded including an incredible 4650 pounds or 2109 kilograms by a team of two horses.
Horse Pulling has come a long way since the early 1900's. Although the Amish still use horses to do their field work, those horses who labour on the farm for many hours a day usually don't end up in the Pulling Arena on the week-end. The few farmers that use their pulling stock to haul manure or cut hay, don't do it on a consistent enough basis for the horses to be fit enough for the arena.
The best horses in competition are worked every day to keep their muscles and tendons in shape enough to pull heavy loads. They are no different than a weight lifter or football player getting ready for their given sport. These draft animals are bred for their strength and agility to pull heavy loads and the short distances they pull loads over do not raise heart and blood pressure levels enough to have an adverse effect them.
Rules vary in the sport with competitions judged over distance, time, loads, combined weight of the teams, number of pulls allowed etc. Some massive weights have been recorded including an incredible 4650 pounds or 2109 kilograms by a team of two horses.
If you like the idea of hurtling across snow or skimming the waves at 60km per hour and catching the odd bit of air then these sports may be just the thing. For more information visit:
North American Ski Joring Association
British Horsesurfing Club
Horse Pulling USA