By Kerstie Allen
Sheridan, Wyoming, is a hidden summer wonderland of Western and polo heritage. When I arrived in the town voted “Best Town to Live Like an Old West Cowboy” by True West magazine, I felt like I’d stepped back in time and literally found the original center of America’s horse world
Craving the Western ways and a love for the Western horse, I’d found my holiday destination for the summer. Dressed in blue jeans and cowboy boots, my first night in Wyoming kicked off at the Sheridan Pro Rodeo, with the finals of the Indian Relay Horse Race. If you’re looking for Saturday night entertainment, this is the answer.
Indian Relay Races
Painted horses and riders come from several states to compete in the historical event. I sat overlooking the rodeo arena connected to a full racetrack for the start of the Indian Relay Horse Race as 15 hand-painted, high-spirited horses were led into the arena by tribes of Indians dressed in matching, brightly colored clothing.
Each team consisted of one rider/jockey and three horses led by their teammates. Each team had a designated color and the five teams each held their first horse at the starting line.
We all jumped as the starter fired the gun to start the race. That was when the fun started. Five athletic Indians jumped on their bareback mounts and headed off around the track at high speed. One fell off and another was pushed off by his opponents, but three stayed on and galloped around the track, back to the arena to dismount at speed and jump onto their next waiting mount, like the pits at a NASCAR race — just without rules! They ran the course one more time on fresh horses amongst eight loose horses to cross the finish line and claim victory to a standing ovation from the crowd.
Then it was on to a full professional rodeo of even more historical Western rough stock and timed events. The wild, spirited bucking horses and bulls competed against the top cowboys in the world, who attempted to stay on for their backs for an eight-second ride, and the old Western ways of roping, tying and steer dogging allowed the cowboys to show off their ranch-hand abilities where fastest time won a big paycheck. It was a great show of man against beast and a tribute to the American cowboy.
A Change of Discipline
After a long, eventful Saturday night, I woke Sunday morning and headed south of town to play a little polo. Polo has been played in Sheridan since 1893 and as I drove closer, I could see why. The view was breathtaking and several immaculate polo fields lined the foothills of Big Horn National Park.
As I saddled up, the polo ponies felt the chill of the fresh mountain air and we pranced out to the field lined with hundreds of local polo fans and tourists all wanting more outdoor action. After our polo game, in Big Horn style, a chariot pulled by two white mules arrived to give us a ride to the award ceremony, followed by a large home-style barbecue thoroughly enjoyed by all as we visited and watched a spectacular sunset over the mountains.
Although the weekend was over, the summer festivities had just begun. My next venture was to the quaint Western main street of Sheridan to visit an amazing hidden equestrian sanctuary: Kings Saddlery, Rope Shop and Museum. It would have been easy to get sidetracked by the amazing store of endless western gifts and horse tack — instead, I headed straight through the store to the working rope shop behind, where I found one of the most amazing galleries of Western memorabilia I’d ever seen.
I viewed a remarkable collection of saddles, bits, Indian artifacts and guns, and a wall dedicated to polo since the King family indulges in the game. Also adjoining the store was the Bozeman Trail Gallery specializing in 19th- to 20th-century fine Western art and collectibles, where it was possible to purchase a piece of American history.
The rest of my trip consisted of hiking to remote waterfalls, camping in the wilderness, golfing, breathtaking trail rides, 4×4 adventures, fishing and spectating trophy-sized moose and bucks, all in the snow-capped mountains of Big Horn National Forest. Of all my travels, summertime in Sheridan became one of my favorite polo destinations. The great outdoors had everything you can ask for and polo thrives there, thanks to the efforts of the Big Horn Polo Club and Flying H Polo Club.
Buckminster Fuller aptly said, “The minute you begin to do what you really want to do, it’s really a different kind of life.”
About the writer: Kerstie Allen is a native of Melbourne, Australia. Her passion for horses has taken her on a worldwide adventure exploring and mastering nearly every discipline in the equestrian world and opening doors of opportunity for women everywhere. Follow Kerstie’s adventures at: Twitter: @kerstiea; Facebook fan page: Kerstie Allen; and Instagram: allenkerstie.
All photos by Kersite Allen, unless otherwise noted