Skijoring is a rather odd winter sport where a person on skis is pulled by a horse, a dog (or dogs), the name derived from the Norwegian word skikjøring meaning ski driving. Skijoring behind a horse is said to have originated as a method of winter travel, but today is primarily a competitive sport. Equestrian skijoring consists of a team of a single horse, generally guided by a rider, pulling the person on skis who carries no poles and simply hangs onto a tow rope in a manner akin to water skiing. In France, competitions involve a riderless horse, which is guided by the skier. In all cases, the horses have to be trained to accept the presence of ropes and a skier behind them and to remain calm in racing conditions.
In North America, the North American SkiJoring Association holds competitions in which a rider guides the horse while the skier navigates a series of jumps and obstacles. More informal competitions are held on flat ground over short courses, often as simple sprint races on a straightaway, sometimes with turns on the course. Competitors often use short skis and modified water skiing towing equipment, though often this is as simple as a single tow rope looped around the horn or attached to the back of a western saddle. Some variants in equipment attach two towing lines to either the back of a saddle or the breastplate on the horse. Timing is typically electronic, with top competitions decided by hundredths of seconds.
Two types of race courses are common in skijoring competitions, a straight course, and the horseshoe-shaped course. The straight course allows the horse to run at top speed down the middle of the course with the skier navigating slalom gates and jumps ranging from three to nine feet high, set on either side of the horse track. At some events, to add difficulty, the skier is also required to grab one or more rings as they ski past a station on the course. The horseshoe-shaped course allows the horse to run on the inside of the track while the skier navigates slalom racing gates and jumps ranging from four to six feet high.
The World Skijoring Championships have been held in Whitefish, Montana since 2009, as a part of the annual Whitefish Winter Carnival, usually the last weekend of January. The 2011 World Skijoring Championships had an actual purse of $19,580 and 91 teams, and also featured a “Murdoch’s Long Jump” competition as a separate class, where a horseman pulls a skier straight ahead as fast as possible, with the skier jumping for maximum distance, similar to gelandesprung, but landing on the flat. Skiers are required to land upright. Some teams emphasize speed acceleration, a “crack-the-whip” effect by either having the horse veer to the side immediately before the jump, or the skier will create his or her own crack-the-whip effect, before attempting the jump. The long jump itself is an 8–10-foot jump and the 2011 winning distance was 56 feet.
All photos by ANDERS BEER WILSE / ARTS COUNCIL NORWAY VIA EUROPEANA