[Photo: Kylee Halvorson]
With the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) Indian Relay having made its debut in the 2022 North Dakota State Fair (NDSF), the event will return to the 2023 NDSF — this time, though, it will include Women’s Indian Relay.
MHA Tourism Director Darin Morsette confirmed Women’s Indian Relay will be making its first appearance at the jam-packed event.
The Women’s Indian Relay is much like the Men’s Indian Relay, filled with so much exhilaration. It consists of two horses, a rider, mugger, and catcher. The riders will only need to make one clean horse exchange to get them the title.
When asked what he hopes to see at this year’s Indian Relay, Morsette replied, “Oh, bigger and better with much more excitement!”
Jessee and Hailey Vigen are sisters and will be competing this summer at the NDSF as riders for their teams Blue Blossom and Saddle Butte Sisters. They are the daughters of Lloyd and Daniella Vigen, who also compete as team Awa Daa Hey. The family helped out at last year’s MHA Indian Relay, and this year they get to show the state of North Dakota what women and horses can do.
The sisters have both raced with the Men’s Indian Relay in various states and have competed in the Ultimate Warrior Challenge, to maiden races, and Indian Relay. They also competed at the first ever Women’s Indian Relay Championship in Walla Walla, Washington.
“Women’s Indian Relay has grown in the last couple years and competition has gotten tougher. It’s just as competitive as the Men’s, and we hope to see teams from all over,” stated Hailey.
Training for the event is not easy. “It starts in the morning with feeding. We ride over 15 horses all day, then feed again in the evening. We will run them a mile, then to two miles. We include interval trainings with hills, then we go to the track and teach them their jobs,” Hailey explained.
Jessee said, “It’s a time to escape reality. It’s freedom. I’m the jockey, and I’m in control. Getting off and on feels like an adrenaline rush. Afterwards, it’s fun, because I can spend time with my sister and a time to be with my family. It’s a unique competition, and that’s the reason I keep going back. The whole thing about Indian Relay, the horses, the people… it fills my heart.”
Indian Relay and horse competition in general is not for the faint of heart. Early mornings, late nights, traveling hundreds of miles to compete. All for the love of horses!
Kylee Halvorson is the Executive Assistant at the MHA Interpretive Center. She is also a Four Bears Rodeo Committee Member, a 2023 NHSC Equine Science Graduate, and mother to three boys.