On Track for Extreme Thunder

Native American horse-racing relay will find home in the Chippewa Valley

Lauren Fisher

EXTREME EQUINES. The Extreme Thunder Indian Horse Relay Championship is set to premiere next year.
EXTREME EQUINES. The Extreme Thunder Indian Horse Relay Championship is set to premiere next year.

Work on a half-mile dirt racetrack will begin in the town of Union late April or early May – the first steps toward Eau Claire becoming the home of the national Extreme Thunder Indian Horse Relay Championship in 2020. Larry Barr, founder of Country Jam USA, will produce the event, which will involve more than a dozen teams of Native American riders competing with each other.

Jockeys start on the ground, and mount their first horse at the sound of a shot. Their team members prepare a second horse as they race – bareback – the first leg of the relay, and at the end of the first lap, the competitor leaps off his horse and jumps onto the next animal. Another half mile, and the jockey must repeat the process, then sprint to the finish line. Three handlers help the rider make the transitions, which are called “Storms.” It’s a dangerous race, with handlers and jockeys alike sometimes finding themselves in the way of a speeding steed.

“It’s not a pow-wow and it’s not a horse race, and there’s four ‘wow’ moments,” Barr said. By his reckoning, the Kentucky Derby only gets people on their feet when the horses come down the final stretch. But in Extreme Thunder, he has seen crowds at full enthusiasm for the entirety of each race.

As a producer for music festivals, concerts, and other events, Barr is used to working through performances. But when he became involved with Indian Relays, he found himself pausing in his work to watch the competition. “I don’t do that for bands,” he said, “and I’ve seen every headliner in the world.”

Barr is working with Marcus Red Thunder – an indigenous peoples’ advocate and advisor to the TV series Longmire – to enlist competitors for the relay. As the event is developed, further educational and cultural components, including product booths, Native American music, peripheral talks, and more, may be incorporated into the experience.

The racetrack will be created on Remington Ranch in the town of Union. Barr expects to have the site mostly completed by August this year, but the website for the organization will be online sometime in late March or early April. More information about Extreme Thunder will be released over the course of 2019 and 2020.