August 13, 2007

Colvilles sponsor Suicide Race

The Race Where Horses Die

A Washington town's 70-year-old tradition persists, drawing devoted fans--and the critics who want to shut it downFor more than 70 years, cowboys and Indians have gathered here in the rolling sagebrush hills of central Washington every August for the annual Omak Stampede and the rodeo's biggest draw, the Suicide Race. In four races over four days that began Thursday, 15 riders simultaneously sprint their horses at full gallop down the hill and across the river to a rodeo arena. The first three races are run at night with floodlights to light the hill. In Thursday night's race, one rider was thrown from his mount as the horses barreled down the hill; the horse finished the race riderless.

To the Colville Confederated Tribes, whose 1.4 million-acre reservation borders Omak, the annual race is a tradition that extends back to the tribe's days as horse warriors in the Wild West. To animal-rights groups, though, it is a banner example of animal cruelty that has no place in modern society.
What the Colvilles believe:The Omak Suicide Race manages to hold on because of tradition and also the economic boost it delivers for the city. The fact that the Colville Tribes claim the horse race as a link to their Indian heritage adds an extra dimension to the debate.

John Sirois, a cultural-preservation administrator for the tribes, says the race is spiritual. Many riders pray in sweat lodges to prepare for their races and adorn their horses with sacred eagle feathers. The competition is the ultimate demonstration of the rider's ability to become one with the horse, he says.

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