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No one in western Washington has officially raced wild horses in decades, but that will change this year at the Southwest Washington Fair.

The 2018 Rodeo & Wild Horse Race will include a wild horse race, bull riding, saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, team roping, mutton busting and more. The wild horse race is the newest addition to this year’s rodeo.

“We were looking for something exciting and new and different to do that would be attractive to people,” said Tamara Hayes, the general manager for the fair.

Pat McLaughlin is one of the stock providers for the Southwest Washington Fair and helps to produce the event. He said it has been at least 30 years since anyone in western Washington has hosted a wild horse race.

“It hasn’t been done in decades,” Hayes said. “It also stands out as a reason to come and see something different.”

McLaughlin explained the wild horse race consists of six horses loaded in the bucking chutes at a time. Each horse has a halter and a rope attached. Six three-man teams stand in the arena with a rope.

“They will open all the chute gates at once, so all six horses come out into the arena,”  McLaughlin said. “Each team will get the horse controlled and put a saddle on it. Then one of the team members will get on the horse and ride the horse to a designated line. The first person to cross the line is the winner.”

McLaughlin said the sport mainly became less popular because of a lack of interest from contestants.

“The Native Americans have kind of rejuvenated the sport and really pushed it,” McLaughlin said. “(They) made it a well-paying event and it is somewhat of a heritage thing for the Native Americans also.”

There will be a total of 12 wild horses at the event. There are six different three-man teams that compete twice, with two different horses.

“These fellows are very, very skilled at what they do,” McLaughlin said. “They travel all over the western United States. There will be teams here from New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.”

The event is sanctioned through the National Indian Rodeo Association and all of the competitors are of Native American descent

“It’s crazy,” McLaughlin said. “These fellows are extremely skilled at what they do. One of the reasons the popularity has come back so well is the prize money being put up for these races. There are some races in the Northwest that there is $10,000 to win this event. That is one of the reasons it has become popular again with the Native Americans.” 

The fair puts $1,000 toward the wild horse race purse. The rest of the funds for winners come from entry fees.

The other rodeo events — bull riding, bronc riding, bareback riding and barrel racing — also have a $100 entry fee. There is a 100 percent payback, so all of the entry money goes to the winners. The entries close on Aug. 15 and the fee is cash only.

“It is definitely, definitely something new around here and, as the sport is being rejuvenated, hopefully we will do more,” McLaughlin said. “It’s going to be something that the majority — if not all — of the people here have never actually witnessed.”

The 2018 Rodeo & Wild Horse Race will take place on Aug. 18 at 6 p.m. at Southwest Washington Fair Grandstands.

“I think it’s going to be a really great show,” Hayes said.

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