RIDE & TIE

Overview:

A common conundrum: You and a friend need to get to the general store as fast as possible, but there's only one horse.What do you do if the horse can't carry two people? Flip a coin? Perhaps one person should ride the horse while the other runs along beside it.

While this age old dilemma doesn't have a perfect answer, it has had since 1971 a loyal following trying to do their best. They call themselves the Ride and Tie Association, founded in 1988, and they have been competing against each other for over 35 years.

Mainly in the western U.S., Ride 'n' Tie competitions culminate in a summer World Championships, with the very best coming together to battle each other for cash prizes. To get there, the athletes need strategy possibly more than aerobic ability and riding skill.

The common strategy to cover the race distance of 20-100 miles most quickly includes letting the horse and one rider get well in front of the rider-on-foot, or runner, before tieing the horse to a tree. The upcoming runner unties the horse, hops on, and proceeds to catch the former rider, who is now on foot. The riders take turns on the horse in this manner all the way to the finish, where the last of the teammates to cross the line determines the finishing time.

This strategy is vastly superior to the common solution of keeping the team together throughout the race. Imagine this: Team Buckeroo stays together for the whole race and simply switches riders, while similarly-fit Team Mustang Sally uses the previously described strategy for a short 10 mile race with both teams switching riders only once, at halfway. Team Buckeroo makes it to five miles in about 40 minutes along with the first runner from Mustang Sally. However, at that point the Mustang Sally runner finds an abandoned horse and can ride it as fast as she wants without leaving any teammates far behind, presumably until very close to the finish. On the other hand, the Buckeroos will cover the last five miles only as fast as their second runner, who probably can't keep pace with Mustang Sally's four-legged teammate. Victory: Team Mustang Sally.


Ride 'n' Tie athletes have been known to arrive at the finish without their teammates, and sometimes horses decide to go on alone. But, miscalculations and hastily-tied knots are part of the game, a beautiful part some would say.

The horses enjoy it as much as the humans, enthusiasts say, even if it doesn't come straight from the horse's mouth. These "superstars who carry the team" get antsy being tied up mid-race and can be heard braying in eager expectation of the freedom to run, and the runner can be heard panting for need of a break.

If the competitive cowpoke in you is yearning to be tested, grab a partner and head out west, but first be sure your lungs can handle it. Despite the sport's name there is running involved, and lots of it. To be sure, these guys are real athletes, tough as they come, with or without chaps and spurs.