Skijoring originated in Scandinavia as a form of winter transportation behind reindeer. Later, it was adopted in mainland Europe in countries such as France, Switzerland and Poland behind horses. Equine skijoring arrived on the North American continent as a recreational activity as early as 1915 in Lake Placid, New York, then after WWII, Western states such as Colorado, Wyoming and Montana began to transform it into an action packed competition. At first, these events were held down main streets and often the horses raced side my side each pulling a skier. Today, single horses pull a skier through a course of gates, jumps, and rings. Competitors race for prizes based on the fastest combined times with the fewest penalties. Most importantly, skijoring is a great reason to get outside during the winter in the American West, ride your horse, strap on your skis or snowboard, see your friends and family, socialize, and support local communities and charities.
In the top photo, Jared Sare, skijor competitor, cowboy and on site veterinarian at the Pinedale, Wyoming event in 2017.
Left, Seven year old Kimber Cook of Ridgeway, CO is the youngest member of Team Jax and rides Lady. This was Kimber’s first year competing in skijoring alongside her mom and uncle. In the summer months she competes as a barrel racer and was the overall champion in her Gymghana series. Kimber lives on cattle ranch where she helps her parents work the cattle moving them from pasture to pasture.
I grew up in Perm, the big industrial city in Ural Mountains, Russia. We had a prominent horse race track that specialized in harness races. I was an exercise rider there through my school years. The rest of the time between school and the race track I was cross country skiing, as we lived at the edge of the city and the forest was literally around the corner. However, I’ve never seen those two activities put together until I got to see an equestrian skijoring race in the American West.
I first learned about Skijoring when I met Loren Zhimanskova, the head of Skijor International when she was promoting the movie Ice Cowboys at the Equus Film Festival in New York City in November of 2015. Watching this sport on the big screen took my breath away. The snow under the hooves flying in your face, the high ski jumps, the rings you capture while being pulled by a rope behind a wildly galloping horse, the speed, the excitement, the adrenaline rush.
Left, Veteran skijor competitor, Jeffery Dahl of Durango, Colorado rides Rage at Jackson Hole, Wyoming in 2016. The race is held annually at the base of the beautiful Teton Village Ski Resort.
By the time I met Loren, I had already started my personal photo quest, “Horses in Our Modern Lives”, which was motivated by living in the big city, namely New York, and required re-confirmation that there are plenty of ways we cherish and maintain our equine-human partnership in a technological era. And it is very specific to the country with its unique history and culture.
The first skijoring competition at which I took photographs was Jackson Hole, Wyoming in 2016. I wanted to go so badly that I wrote to Loren and stated that I would love to come over and take pictures of the competition, only being a city dweller I did not drive a car. Loren organized all my logistics on my very first trip to the American West. Following that great experience, I had another good thing coming – SKI Magazine used 6 of my pictures for their February 2017 article ‘Dangerous’. That was a great encouragement for me to photograph more skijoring events, and this I did in February-March 2017!
This time Loren and I went to 6 competitions in the course of 3 weekends:
320 Ranch, MT; Midway, UT; Pinedale, WY; Bellevue, ID; Leadville, CO; Saratoga, WY.
I just wanted to see as much as I possibly could in a rather short time. It was quite a marathon! But I am very happy to have done it! If you find likeminded people, you can move mountains.
Taking Skijoring pictures is very tricky – everything is very long: the track, the rope, the side to side and up and down movements of the skier – which makes it imperative to be clear what you want to keep in the frame and what can be sacrificed. I decided to focus more on the horse and the rider. Not that the skiers are not visually interesting, but they wear helmets so you cannot see their facial expressions. A rider and a horse are full of emotions and movement. The partnership between a rider and his horse is also amazing to watch. They are a team’s driving force – literally and figuratively, and they work as one, and the horse and the rider team was a reason I was there.
Photo above left, Savannah McCarthy of Aztec, NM and Bruce Stott of Frisco, CO, a winning team, are riding high and catching big air at the Leadville Skijoring competition, the longest running and most challenging race on the circuit with jumps up to 8 feet high.
Photo above right, Rae Fullmer and Kate Teichert of Cokeville, Wyoming strike a playful pose for me on Badger in between races at Jackson, Wyoming in 2016.
The two very different worlds – those of an American cowboy and a skier – join forces to create something completely different than what they do in their respective fields on their own.
I was fascinated and curious about how the team members work together, how they find each other. Are there are people that do both – riding and skiing? What ages, genders are represented in each part of the sport? How do they decide to work together? How do they pick a partner? How do they train the horses? How does the rope’s movement, tension and direction influence the rider, the horse and the skier? So, I was a question person.
Thanks to the horses in this wonderful sport I’ve found a lot of new friends, new human connections that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. We had such a great time. I’ve been invited to visit some of them in summer time, which I did and it was amazing.
The horses and photography cause great collaborations to happen. Horses bring people of all walks of life together and widen our views on the world. And photographer is trying to take a picture that is worth a million words. I’ve made a lot of friends that I want to keep forever.
American Skijoring exemplifies the bond between a man and a horse. Yes, the skier is a very important team member, but he only can do well with the great driving force of a well connected team of a horse and a rider.
Photo left, John Hyde of Boulder, Wyoming and his close friend and family member, Skippy. Skippy retired from skijoring last year at the age of 20 and is now a proud flag bearer and parade horse.
* A ton of special, huge and heartfelt thanks to Loren Zhimanskova for her generous help to make all the above happen and in writing this article. Your continuous support, Loren, and your unwavering encouragement along the way made this project possible. We made a great working team! Thank you, beautiful horses and this fascinating sport, for bringing people together!
Story and photography by Nina Galicheva. This story originally appeared as the cover story in the December 2017 issue of Sport and Trail Magazine. All photography is owned by Nina Galicheva and protected under copyright laws. It is unlawful to copy, download, or redistribute in any manner without explicit permission from the photographer.