Skiing and horseback riding are two popular outdoor pastimes for Utahns, but what if the two activities were somehow mixed together?
Skijoring has its roots dating back hundreds of years and originated as a mode of winter travel, according to Brian Gardner, Orem resident and co-founder of Skijoring Utah. Through the years, skiers have been towed by horses, reindeer, dogs, snowmobiles, cars or even motorcycles in more modern times. Today, skijoring is much more about fun and competition than getting from point A to B.
In skijoring competitions, generally a horse and a rider pull a skier at a fast pace through a course that includes gates, rings and jumps. Like a slalom ski race, the skier has to make turns to go through the gates, get over the jumps and grab rings, with time penalties for missing gates or rings — all while being towed by a horse. Competitors race for cash and prizes based on the fastest times.
Equine skijoring gained more mainstream notoriety when it was included as an exhibition sport at the 1928 Winter Olympic Games in Switzerland. It is speculated that skijoring made its way to the United States after World War II when soldiers that had seen the sport in Europe returned to mountain towns in the American west and made the sport their own. The first equestrian competition was held in Leadville, Colorado, in 1949, which still hosts the event today, and ever since the sport has slowly gained popularity.
Competitions today are held annually in states such as Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, but it wasn’t until 2017 that the sport officially came to Utah.
Orem natives Brian Gardner and Joe Loveridge, who now lives in Heber city, have been avid cowboys their whole lives and worked as ski patrolmen at Sundance Mountain Resort from the late ‘90s to early 2000s. The two decided to bring their mutual loves of skiing and horseback riding together after seeing skijoring in nearby states.
“In our opinion, it was the perfect fit given Utah’s strong western and ranching heritage combined with its famed skiing heritage,” Gardner said.
In 2017, Skijoring Utah held its first equine skijoring competition at Soldier Hollow in Midway. Each year since — besides in 2018 when the event had to be cancelled due to a lack of snow — the event has grown.
This year from Feb. 21 to Feb. 22, Gardner estimates that over 3,000 people came out to the two-day event. Several Utah County and regional vendors selling food and gear related to skiing and cowboying were present as competitors of varying abilities vied for cash, prizes and bragging rights.
Skijoring Utah held several different racing divisions: high school, novice, women’s, century (where the rider’s and skier’s ages must add up to at least 100), sport and pro. Once the divisions finished up on Saturday, a big-air competition — where skiers tried to jump as far as possible off a jump while towed by a horse — was held to close out the weekend.
Roughly 170 teams competed in the 2020 competition. Among them was Triple M — comprised of Misty Cain, Megan Lynn and Maverick, the horse.
Cain is employed as a respiratory therapist at Timpanogos Regional Hospital in Orem and Lynn teaches math at Spanish Fork Junior High School. “I feel like my job relates a little bit because I do have some adrenaline rushes when I’m working, but it’s a different kind of adrenaline,” said Cain, a Springville resident, with a laugh.
The duo had never tried skijoring, and decided to compete on a whim. So, they prepared by practicing in a setting they hoped would closely mimic a skijoring racecourse — in Cain’s father’s alfalfa field.
“Yeah, it didn’t really work on the dry alfalfa,” Lynn said with a laugh. “We did try it though,” she said, recalling Cain atop Maverick pulling Lynn on skis around the alfalfa field.
Lynn, a Mona resident, began skiing at about the age of 12 when her family introduced her to the sport. Today, she still skis regularly.
Cain grew up around horses in Benjamin. “I don’t even remember the first time I got on a horse, but I’ve always been riding around the farm and taking trail rides up the canyon,” she said. “My dad and I go on cattle drives together. It’s like my serenity and we’re able to stop our crazy lives and talk and catch up and share a lot. Those moments are precious to me.”
Both Lynn and Cain are quite comfortable skiing and horseback riding respectively, but when put together in skijoring, it’s a whole new ballgame. “It’s not quite the canyon ride with my dad,” said Cain with a laugh.
Lynn, Cain and Maverick — Triple M — competed in the novice and women’s divisions each day of the competition, totaling four runs.
Their first two runs on the first day were disqualified. Lynn fell when landing a jump on one run, and she couldn’t make it through the starting gate when Maverick took off prematurely on another run. “When we were practicing in the field, I was like, yeah, this is good, but then on the actual course ... it was just faster I think, and the jumps, I’ve never done jumps before,” Lynn said. “It’s kind of like water skiing.”
Conditions were a little difficult to get used to for Cain and Maverick on the first day, but seemed to improve on the last day.
On the last day, Triple M successfully completed both of their runs. Although not making overly competitive times, Cain and Lynn only had intentions of simply having a good time, and excited high-fives after their runs proved they certainly got what they wanted.
“Especially nowadays, life can be so crazy and you forget to stop, slow down and enjoy,” Cain said. “Skijoring is kind of like that: It’s pure fun.”