Imagine a huge ski-course. A track 2,700m in length. Horses racing at speeds of up to 50 kilometres an hour over a layer of ice 60 centimetres thick. And the jockeys? Nowhere to be seen. Instead, the picture is completed by a number of brave skiers gliding skillfully, or more precisely, being towed along, by the powerful, galloping horses. Sounds interesting? It certainly is. And besides, such muted reactions are not appropriate when it comes to skijoring. Just as they have no place with regard to the sport’s birthplace, Saint Moritz.
Saint Moritz has always been characterized by its spirit of innovation. This dazzling, Alpine resort, the epitome of winter sports venues and always a centre for both the international jet set and the fur industry, making it a starting point for the hottest fashion trends, was the first place in Switzerland to acquire electricity. Its pioneering did not stop there. It was also Saint Moritz where, about a century ago, a couple of winter sports enthusiasts thought up a new equestrian sport. This novel form of horse-racing quickly became a success, attracting the attention of horse lovers everywhere. In 1923, moreover, just before the first Winter Olympic Games, the possibility of it becoming an Olympic event was seriously discussed.
But what exactly is skijoring? It is a specialized form of horse-racing in which the horses, instead of being ridden by a jockey, tow skiers behind them as they gallop around the snow-covered race course at speeds of up to 50 kilometers an hour. Many other alpine countries have followed the example of Switzerland, adopting this novel version of horse-racing. However, even today, there is nowhere else where this original and extraordinarily impressive sport is vested with such expertise, panache and…style, as in the birthplace where it first became established: the Engadine valley of Switzerland.
The first requirement for success in this risky sport is excellent teamwork between athlete and horse. The race is difficult and demanding. It calls for strength, perseverance, patience, courage, the right instinct and above all a perfect sense of balance. Rare qualities and virtues possessed only by a select few – both people and … horses.
The start of the race demands particular care ….It is the crucial moment when reins may become entangled or horses may run off course. No wonder that, during the history of skijoring, records testify to accidents, injuries, entanglements and even races that have had to be abandoned. In 1965, for example, not a single competitor managed to complete the race. Such difficulties have resulted in the adoption of rules regarding the requisite equipment as well as a series of strict trials which candidates must cope with successfully before being allowed to participate in the races.
If the rules of the sport have undergone important changes since 1906, the one thing that remains unaltered is the aura of opulence which surrounds it. A focal point for lovers of fur from around the world, skijoring combines the skill and daring of the racers with the unrivalled elegance and superior style of its sophisticated public.
While the skiers provide lessons in control and self-discipline on the frozen race course, the elegant spectators of this sport provide intensive lessons in style, setting trends in unique fur creations and featuring the most way-out and pioneering fashions.
And while participation in a race of this kind is a major challenge in itself, the determination to win is always what provides the participants with additional daring and strength. The proud winner of the race is crowned “King of Engadine”! And this title in itself is motive enough for each participant to give his all.
White Turf 2017 dates: 12, 19 & 26th of February 2017
Photo credits: swiss-image/AndyMettler