Bareback Horse Racing Takes High Stakes in the Film “Indian Relay”

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LINCOLN, NEBRASKA – The hope and determination of modern-day American Indian life is revealed in this film about what it takes to win one of the most exciting forms of horse racing practiced anywhere in the world today. Featuring remarkable high-speed cinematography, “Indian Relay” follows three teams from different tribes as they prepare for and compete in a grueling Indian Relay season — all hearts set on the glory and honor of winning an Indian Relay National Championship.

A mix of daring and exquisite horsemanship, Indian Relay is a sport widely enjoyed and practiced by men and women from tribal nations across the Rocky Mountain West. Each race begins with up to eight Native athletes riding a horse bareback around a track at full gallop. After one lap — barely slowing down — the riders leap from their speeding horses to a second set of horses. Each team’s “mugger” must then catch the first horse or the team is disqualified, creating an often chaotic scene in front of the grandstands. Another top-speed lap, another daring horse change, and the teams race for the finish line, at speeds topping 40-miles-an-hour.

“Indian Relay” opens with footage from the Indian Relay National Championships, then it cuts back in time, to the bitter cold off-season near Browning, Montana, where first-time Relayer Myles Murray tries to keep his horses alive when night-time temperatures are dropping to 20-degrees below zero. In Crow Agency, Montana, Zack Rock and Kendall Old Horn steadily work through the muddy spring towards their ultimate goal. Near Ft. Hall, Idaho, Lance Tissisimit and Alonzo “Punkin” Coby are buying a retiring flat-track race horse — next season’s Relay horse. Soon enough, the season begins with unexpected turns and even tragedies but each day brings viewers closer to the thread of the film — the Indian Relay National Championships in Blackfoot, Idaho.

Along the way, the film presents viewers with questions fundamental to American Indian life today, such as how can one keep alive an ancient relationship-based culture when it has been almost completely overrun by a modern, commodity-based one?

The Indian Relay racing community is tight-knit but they welcome others to take part in witnessing this time-honored tradition that most of the world is unaware of. Not only is there strength in the bond between these communities, but the love of family — even on competing teams — and the blessing of their prized horses as a staple in their lives is deeply rooted both in emotion and Native tradition.

“Indian Relay” will premiere on the PBS Series “Independent Lens” on Monday, November 18, 2013. For scheduling information in your area or to sign-up for a program reminder, please visit www.pbs.org/independentlens/tv-schedule. This winter, Vision Maker Media will also be offering classroom resources at no cost to accompany the film which can be downloaded from www.visionmakermedia.org/education.

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