There is a new sports event with a cool name coming to the Saskatoon area.
It’s called skijoring.
It’s like waterskiing, except skijoring is done with a horse pulling a skier or boarder — known as sliders — at speeds of up to and maybe more than 25 kilometres an hour. Sliders race against each other and they also participate in timed events, such as obstacle courses. These include jumps and gates. Actually, the photo on this page is worth 1,000 words.
There are a number of other divisions for people of various ages and experiences. Not everyone will be pulled at breakneck speeds like the guy in the picture.
Skijoring has been around for centuries. It was first done with a practical purpose — a means of transportation, whether it be dogs, horses or reindeer pulling a skier.
In 1901, skijoring made its official debut as a sport at the Nordic Games. Reindeer pulled the skiers at those games, and at those in 1905 and 1909. In 1928, with horses doing the pulling, it was a demonstration sport at the Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Also in the early 1990s, it came to North America and became a recreational activity.
It was proposed as an Olympic demonstration sport in the 1970s. A number of groups are working to have the sport included in the 2026 Olympics.
Skijoring events are held in various snowy areas in the United States. One held earlier this winter in Colorado offered more than $25,000 in prize money. Two horses have been enshrined in a hall of fame and the coolest name for a topnotch slider goes to Tug Birk.
Skijor Canada was formed in 2017. Its goal is to have events throughout the country, including a national championship. There was a crowd of 2,000 at Calgary’s event last year and $10,000 in prize money.
Now, for the first time, a skijoring event will be held in our neck of the woods — in South Corman Park on March 17, to be precise. It isn’t the first in the province, though. An event was held in Rosthern last year and a second was scheduled for last weekend.
Shannon Christensen, one of the organizers, said she has been pulling her children in fields for years. It just didn’t have a fancy name. She and her family called it fun.
“First of all, I love horses, and I love winter,” Christensen said. “It is something I can do with my kids and my horses. It’s fun to get pulled and getting your horse to go really fast. It’s a family thing because you and the kids build little jumps and off you go.”
She said the event won’t be too much of a challenge for experienced skiers and boarders.
“It’s really exhilarating, because you are having so much fun and enjoying whoever you are with. You just grab on and go. It’s a good way to spend time with your family, your friends and your horses. It is tons of fun.”
Special things added to the event include pony rides, two wagons with teams of horses and sleigh rides.
The South Corman Park School gymnasium will be the home base. From there, spectators will be given the option of taking a wagon ride or walking to the event site. It’s about a quarter-mile away from the school. Measures have been taken to make the event safe for spectators.
The site will have bonfires where people can roast a wiener on an open fire. There are also marshmallows, hot chocolate and chips. Spectators will sit on hay bales. It will give the event a rustic feel.
The cost for sliders is $50 and for those with a horse it’s $30. Each slider will get three runs. The races and relays will be run over a distance of between 400 and 500 metres.
“You want it long enough so your skier/snowboarder gets a good ride — some good enjoyment out of it — but you have to make sure your horse can handle that kind of run,” said Lorraine Beaudette, president of the Corman Park Horse Rider Association and an organizer of the event.
She stressed that the safety of the horses is paramount.
“We are big on horsemanship, so we are doing horse health check points. . . . There are limits on how many times they can pull somebody and at what speeds. They will have their heart rates checked before they can compete again; so they have to take resting intervals to lower heart rates and things like that.”
Christensen says the horses have been conditioned for the event.
“They are not going to pull them out of the pasture and make them run all day.”
Beaudette says five of her horses will be there, and she plans to ride a time or two; her organizer hat will be on most of the day. Christensen hopes to do a ride or two, as well.
The first event on March 17 will be held at 10 a.m., with the final one wrapping up around 4:30 p.m. The cost is $10 per family or $5 a person. Those 12 and under are admitted at no charge.
For more information on the event, including entering as a skier/boarder, rider or a team, visit grasswoodhorsepark.ca. The South Corman Park School is located on Baker Road in Casa Rio East — between Clarence Avenue and Highway 11.
“It’s so close to the city,” Christensen added. “If you can go to the zoo, you can come to this. Hop in your car and go.”
A lot of volunteer work has gone into organizing the event, since discussions started last year. Christensen made a point of thanking Jonathan Storey of Escape Sports for the help and support he has provided.
Organizers hope it will become an annual event.