Rough and ready relayerAug 20, 2017 By Randy Tucker, Staff Writer
John Redman is one of the best there is in a rugged sport
The Spanish conquistador Coronado is credited with unintentionally bringing the horse to the American indian tribes of the Great Plains in 1542, when a handful of mounts escaped his quest for the mythical Seven Cities of Gold.
The ponies that first ran wild in the high grass of Kansas over four centuries ago became an integral part of the life of the nomadic tribes of the plains.
A glimpse of that ancient way of life can be seen at rodeos and independent events across the West each summer in Indian relays: young men riding bareback on horses at full gallop, with just a handful of mane or a halter to hang onto, competing inside the concrete and steel barriers of rodeo arenas against up to six other teams at the same time.
It requires balance, strength and agility to stay on a horse in these conditions, and the athletes that do it are special.
One of the best is 26-year old John Redman of Ethete. Redman, or "Johnny Red," is described as a natural on a horse. One observer said it appears as if Redman is stuck to the horse with Velcro.
But it isn't Velcro that keeps Redman atop a speeding horse as he competes with others in arenas across the Mountain West.
"I got started when I was about 10 years old," Redman said. "My first relay race was in Lander during the Pioneer Days rodeo when I was 11 years old, but I was racing horses at 10."
Redman won his first prize money as a 10-year old.
"By the time I hit relays, I'd already won a couple of horses," he said.When asked his favorite kind of horse, Redman was quick with an answer and a wide grin.
"A fast one."
There are three horses in a relay, all ridden one after another by the same rider once the rider has completed the race with the previous horse. While the rider is racing on one horse, his team readies the next to be mounted as soon as the current leg is done.The rider that crosses the finish line first on his final horse is the winner.
The relay circuit is similar to a rodeo circuit, with events across the nation.There are several divisions in each relay: an open class race, a flat race, ladies race and a Chief's race.
"I was doing flat races at first," Redman said. "Kids race on ponies, there are relays with kids on Shetlands."
Redman said the relay is a team event, with many players filling important roles out of the saddle.
"It's NASCAR with horses," Redman said."There are different jobs that we have to do. One guy sets up the horses while I get off and on. I have another guy, the holder, who stands in back and holds an extra horse. It's a team sport, it's not all just me."
Perhaps the most important man for Redman is his catcher.Dwight Timbana, also of Ethete, is the catcher and set up man for the team, meaning that he has to corral the speeding animals during the race before and after they are ridden. It's a position that often gets Timbana knocked to the ground and run over by the sprinting horses.
Redman said there is far more time spent on preparation than in performance. Training the horses on the relay is the most important aspect of the sport short of the actual competition.
"The way I train my horses, is kind of a weird way," Redman said. "I'll exercise them on the track then take them in the hills anddo intervals, then take them swimming to do some low stress work. My team helps me out quite a bit.
There's a lot of stuff that I do with these horses that I did with Chico [Her Many Horses] back in high school track. If these horses really wanted to they could jump, these horses are athletic."
Redman and his team usually take six horses to every venue so they have a full backup team in the event of injury or illness.Redman said the relationship between man and horse is a key component of the sport.
"These horses are hard to keep in shape and keep fed. All the traveling is tough on the horses, you get to know them and it's a long season," Redman said.
From April to September, relay teams drive thousands of miles between events to compete. The road miles are the hardest part of the sport at times, Redman said.
"It gets pretty tiring and stressful," Redman said. "I pick up work in off season, but I plan on doing this as long as I can."
The tour is a lesson in western geography.
"We race all over the western part of the U.S.," Redman said. "We run in Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Minnesota, Nevada and Oklahoma."
It's an arduous schedule for a team and six horses to travel via truck and trailer.
"I do most of the driving," Redman said.
Support and spectators
Redman's sponsor, Katherine Minthorn of Pendleton, Oregon, provides a semi-truck and trailer with living quarters for the team and room to safely transport six horses on the long roads between events.
"When I was running my own team, I had my own sponsors," Redman said. "The casino was my biggest sponsor."
"It's a really good situation. This way I'm not having to do everything. I don't have to have a full time job and support my horses and my team, buying hay, feed and the entry fees, stalls, all of that," Redman said of Minthorn's sponsorship. "Shoeing itself costs a lot of money. She has a nice place in Oregon. We have a pretty good setup here, a good team and good horses."
In a parallel to Redman's NASCAR metaphor, some people enjoy the speed of horse relays, but many come simply to watch the wrecks.
"I've had plenty of wrecks. I've run over everybody on my team a lot, especially Dwight. It's just part of the game."