By JIM WELLS
The song was beat out on the drums and accompanied by the old lyrical ululations that brought it all to life, an appropriate accompaniment to what was about to take place.
Lakota Sioux singers introduced Thursday night’s opening Indian relay races, the first of three such evenings, with a song entitled, “We are the horse Nation and We Are Coming.”
Indeed they were, in all of their tribal splendor and ceremonial dress, celebrating the animal that changed life for their ancestors and is still a part of their cultural traditions. A large turnout for the races responded enthusiastically, especially during some of the dramatic exchanges from one horse to another directly in front of the grandstand.
It was not necessary to look any further than the winner of the first relay race for corroborating evidence of the riders familiarity with the horse.
Chris Carlson, a 28-year-old, eleven-year veteran of relay racing representing the Blackfeet Nation, parlayed his wealth of savvy and experience into well-timed rides aboard his three mounts to win the first of two relay races on the card for the Little Badger team.
For the first two and one-half laps of the three-mile race, it appeared the team of Mountain Crow, with Zack Rock, Sr. the rider, would easily win the opening relay, leading as he did at some stages of the first two laps by as many as 12 lengths and more.
Carlson kept his eye on the leader and when he spotted the horse starting to back up, made his move. “I could see him tiring,” Carlson said, “and I made my move between the third and fourth turns.”
Carlson’s first of three horses he uses is a quarter horse, reliable most of the time, but unwilling to slow down so he can mount his second horse for the night on some occasions. He was in near perfect form on Thursday.
Carlson has been doing this for a long time and it took a few moments for him to recall how many times he has won relay races. “Four, maybe five,” he said.
He did not need that long to recall what time his next assignment was for the evening. His girlfriend, Marci, and two-year-old daughter, Alaysia, were flying in from Great Falls, Montana, and he needed to pick them up at 11:30 p.m.
Did he know the way from Canterbury to the airport?
“Google knows the way,” he responded.
The second relay race was a one-team show with Brian Beetem an easy winner for the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe’s Dolphus team, gliding home many lengths the best.
Beetem said he was surprised at the response he got from his horses, particularly the third, who displayed unexpected speed despite running on reserve. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “He was tired and yet when I got after him turning for home and picked it up even more.”
He used no special strategy or game plan for the convincing victory. “I just go out and ride he said. “That’s what I did tonight. Ride and see what happens.”
Apparently that is a strategy. It worked in 2016 when Beetem was the winning rider overall.
“This is my favorite track,” he said. “I really like it here.”
Why wouldn’t he.