Independent Lens: Indian Relay

Updated Wed, Nov 13, 2013 10:39 am

Monday, November 18 • 10 p.m.
Set against the sweeping panoramic vistas of the high plains, Indian Relay explores one of the most competitive, dangerous, and thrilling forms of horse racing practiced anywhere in the world today. From the bitter cold of winter to the heat and mayhem of the summer’s championship races in Montana and Idaho, Indian Relay follows teams from three different American Indian communities over nine months, as they prepare for and compete across a grueling Indian relay season—all hearts set on the glory and honor of winning the National Championships. 
An exhilarating mix of high-speed 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 athletes riding 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 handlers must then catch the first horse or risk being disqualified, creating a chaotic melee of 32 people and 24 race horses in the middle of the track. 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 follows teams from the Shoshone-Bannock Nation in Idaho, and the Crow and Blackfeet Nations, both of Montana. Although competitive on the track, the young Indian relay racers share a deep bond through their love of the sport and their pride in their Native traditions. As the film follows their triumphs and setbacks during the course of the racing season, their strength and determination shine through, and serves as a beacon of hope for the families and their communities.