Saturday, February 25, 2012

Suicide Race

The Suicide Race, also promoted as the World Famous Suicide Race, is a horse race held every year, during the second week of August, in Omak, Washington as a part of the Omak Stampede, a rodeo. Held for more than 70 years, the race is known for the portion of the race where horses and riders run down Suicide Hill, a 62-degree slope that runs for 225 feet (69 m) to the Okanogan River. Though the race was inspired by Indian endurance races, the actual Omak race was the 1935 brainchild of a local Omak business owner. The race has provoked serious concerns among animal welfare and animals rights groups.


The course starts at the top of Suicide Hill, where riders have 50 feet (15 m) to get their horses up to full speed before charging down the hill and into the river where they swim across to the other side, then sprint a last 500 yards (460 m) to the rodeo arena where the crowd waits. In August the river is often low enough for the horses to run across. Most riders wear helmets, and all are required to wear life jackets. Horses and riders have to pass three tests to demonstrate their ability to run in the race and navigate the river: there is an initial veterinarian exam to make sure the horse is physically healthy, a swim test to ensure horses can cross the river, and the hill test where riders ride their horses off the hill at a controlled speed to prove that the animals won't give way to fear at the brink, which can cause a dangerous pile-up.


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