What Is Skijoring?

In 1906, Swiss skiers tethered themselves to horses and attempted to skin down a makeshift racetrack in St. Moritz. Their legacy lives on today in skijoring, a high-octane sport that's practiced across Europe and America. While the exact rules differ based on location, the concept is simple: a horse tows a skier along a complex course at high speeds.

Regional Differences

In American skijoring events, the horses are ridden by cowboys. After the first race of the day, skiers are paired with jockey and horse at random. This gives every racer a chance to go down the course with the fastest course. At the end of the day, results come down to each racer's skill on skis. American skijoring courses have slaloms, jumps, rings and other obstacles that must be navigated successfully to avoid a penalty. Because of the danger involved, American races tend to be against the clock.

In European events, the horses are unridden. European courses are much less complex -- they're pretty much just regular race courses with snow for skiing. Still, skiers must control horses around the oval and avoid other racers as they navigate to a swift finish.

Why Skijoring Over Other Sports?

Skijoring showcases some of the best technical racing on skis. The addition of horses keeps things fast and exciting while adding an additional element for betting enthusiasts to analyze. Here are some of the reasons you should add skijoring racing to your list of things to watch:

Adrenaline and Danger

Paul Copper, a skijoring organizer from Colorado, describes the tension that comes from skijoring best. "When that horse starts going fast, and he's chucking snowballs at your nuts, and you're full of adrenaline... you'd best be on top of your game." He's not wrong. Between the 50+ mile an hour speeds, the 1,500 lb animals, and the technical stunt skiing involved to complete the course, there's a lot of danger involved. Injuries are common. The horses get the worst end of the stick here -- their fragile legs aren't always repairable after a nasty skijoring crash, leading to several euthanizations each season.

The resulting mix of terror and excitement makes skijoring racing one of the most enjoyable sports for participation, spectating and betting. You never know exactly what will happen during each run, but the expertise and skill demonstrated by the participants will surely impress you.

Limited Availablity

It can get boring watching the same thing year after year. Skijoring racing stays fresh: you're only racing, spectating or betting during the winter months. During the summer, spring and fall, weather forces you to pursue other interests. While it's hard to get your skijoring fix in the middle of July, this means that skijoring is fresh and welcome each time winter rolls around. It helps keep each race precious and exciting.