Sarah Broussard loves horses. She also enjoys skiing. But until last winter, she had never considered combining the two.
Then some friends started to tell her that she should sign up for the first-ever skijoring competition in Lakeside. With some prodding, she agreed and found a friend to join her. Initially, she thought she would be the one riding the horse, but then her friend informed her that she couldn’t actually ski. So Broussard found herself strapped to a pair of skis holding a rope for dear life.
She loved it. She loved it so much that a year later she’s hosting the very same skijoring competition at her horse farm just west of Kalispell on Dec. 30 and 31.
“It’s just a great sport,” Broussard said last week in between feeding the horses at Rebecca Farm, a 640-acre property that is home to one of the largest equestrian triathlons in the United States every summer.
Skijoring combines skiing with horse riding. Teams of two — three if you count the horse — compete on straight or horseshoe-shaped courses. The horse pulls a skier hanging on to a rope through the course, and the skier must go over at least two jumps, maneuver around gates and grab rings. If you miss a gate or ring, a few seconds is added to your time. Whoever gets over the finish line standing on at least one ski with the fastest time wins. The sport has roots in Russia and Europe and even made an appearance in the Winter Olympics in the early part of the 20th century.
According to Skijoring America, the governing body of the sport in the United States, the sport came to the country in the late 1940s, when two men in Leadville, Colorado were looking for something new for the local winter carnival. Since then, the sport has slowly grown, and there are about 10 sanctioned events across the country every winter, including in Whitefish, Helena, Lincoln, Deer Lodge and Wisdom.
Lakeside joined the ranks last winter, but earlier this year the West Shore Visitors Bureau decided it would not hold the event for a second year, so some local skijoring competitors asked Broussard if she would consider hosting it. While Rebecca Farm hosts The Event at Rebecca Farm and numerous hunter-jumper competitions during the summer and fall, it’s never held a winter event. Broussard thought it would be a great opportunity to bring more people to the farm.
“We have a great venue for skijoring,” she said. “We hope this event exposes the farm to new groups of competitors and spectators that will come back for different events during the warmer months.”
Jennifer Butler of Whitefish got into the sport a few years ago and is looking forward to participating in the event at Rebecca Farm. She usually partners with her two sons, who are both avid skiers.
“I spend all summer with my horse and this gives me a way to keep riding during the winter,” she said. “It’s a total adrenaline rush.”
Butler now spends most of her winter traveling the West to various skijoring events. This year she plans on competing in at least eight events, but she’s especially excited about the one in Kalispell.
The purse at the Kalispell event, to be raised via sponsorships, will total up to $25,000. A portion of the proceeds from this year’s competition will be donated to Halt Cancer at X, an initiative created by Broussard that raises funds for breast cancer research and support services.
Participants are encouraged to sign up early. Spectators can get into the event, which starts at 11 a.m. with an opening ceremony each day, for $5. For additional information, visit www.rebeccarfarm.org.