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October 6, 2013 at 9:20 PM

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A wild weekend for horse tamers


ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

An unbroken horse drags Danny Heemsah, wearing black, and Adrian Jackson through the dirt during the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race at the rodeo grounds in White Swan on the Yakama Nation on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. Three-man teams attempt to saddle and ride an unbroken horse, only aided by a lead rope.

Teams from around the Northwest took part this weekend in the 18th annual Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race at the White Swan rodeo grounds on the Yakama Nation.

Leon "Stinky" Heemsah, a Yakama-enrolled cowboy, started the competition in 1995 after 46 years of racing with his brothers. He retired after a string of injuries, including breaking seven ribs in Omak, breaking his arm in Pendleton and cracking his ankle in Reno.

"I got all busted up," he said.

During the race, three-man teams -- a mugger, a jockey and a shank man -- attempt to saddle and ride an unbroken horse, aided only by a lead rope. Several teams compete at once with the goal of crossing the judge's finish line.

"To be honest, I think my uncles are crazy," said Karen Cunningham, one of the organizers.

During the two-day weekend event, cowboys and cowgirls also competed in wild cow races, ranch bronc riding and colt races for kids and teens. Several hundred people attended.

Throughout the years, the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race has helped keep Leon's family of 14 siblings together, as well as honor his late siblings and mother.

"This is put on for them," Leon said. "They loved the rodeo."

At the beginning of the festivities, cowboys and cowgirls removed their hats and bowed their heads in tribute to the horse racers and organizers who have died. A tribal song reverberated across the dusty arena, and cowboys from around the Northwest raised their hands to the sun-filled sky.

Casey Heemsah, 29, another organizer, said there has been a decline in wild horse races in the past 10 to 15 years due to pressure from animal activists. The St. Paul Rodeo in Oregon canceled its wild horse race after horses collided.

Casey said changes have been made over the years to help protect the animals and the riders. He believes wild horse racing is an important part of Native American heritage, and important for their future.

"It helps keep kids grounded and out of gangs," he said.

Attendee Emery Benson said native tribes have been breaking untamed horses for centuries, using them for transportation to sustain their livelihood.

"It's an excitement that brings us life," he said. "We are horse people."

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Brittany Shotk, 17, center, watches cowboys and cowgirls prepare behind the chutes at the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race in White Swan on the Yakama Nation on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. The Heemsah family puts on the annual event and attracts participants from around the Northwest.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

The Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race is held on the rodeo grounds in White Swan on the Yakama Nation on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Participants bow their head in honor of the Heemsah siblings and their mother Sadie Cloud Heemsah, who passed away. Leon "Stinky" Heemsah, a Yakama-enrolled cowboy, started the competition in 1995 in their honor.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Leon "Stinky" Heemsah shows off one of his scars earned at the Pendleton Round-Up. Heemsah competed in 46 years of wild horse racing with his brothers. He went into retirement after seven broken ribs in Omak, Wash., a broken arm in Pendleton, Ore., and a cracked ankle in Reno, Nev.. Leon started the competition in 1995 in honor of his deceased relatives.

For more photos, visit the gallery.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Participants compete in the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race in White Swan on the Yakama Nation on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. Several teams compete simultaneous to saddle and to ride an unbroken horse, only aided by a lead rope.

ERIKA SCHULTZ/ THE SEATTLE TIMES

Kristin Heemsah, 14, watches preparations for the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race in White Swan on the Yakama Nation on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. Kristin holds the title of Miss National Indian Days.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Cowboys line up before the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race in White Swan on the Yakama Nation on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Carlo Wallulatum, of Warm Springs, Ore., center, pulls on the lead rope while competing with his team during the wild cow race in White Swan on the Yakama Nation on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Jacob Spencer tapes Cameron Adams' fingers before competing at the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race in White Swan on the Yakama Nation on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013.

ERIKA SCHULTZ/ THE SEATTLE TIMES

Clarence Meanus stretches before competing at the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race in White Swan on the Yakama Nation on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Participants bow their head in honor of the Heemsah siblings and their mother, Sadie Cloud Heemsah. Leon "Stinky" Heemsah, a Yakama-enrolled cowboy, started the competition in 1995 in their honor.

ERIKA SCHULTZ/ THE SEATTLE TIMES

Several hundred spectators watched the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race in White Swan on the Yakama Nation on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Danny Heemsah takes a moment for himself before the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race in White Swan on the Yakama Nation on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Junior contestants participate in the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race in White Swan on the Yakama Nation on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. Several teams compete simultaneous to saddle and ride an unbroken horse, only aided by a lead rope.

ERIKA SCHULTZ/ THE SEATTLE TIMES

Ed Gunnier, talks about the large numbers of wild horses around the Yakama Nation during the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race in White Swan on the Yakama Nation on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

With the help of her teammates and a couple adults, Joleen George, 10, in white, tries to ride in the peewee colt race at the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race in White Swan on the Yakama Nation Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Bobby Bobb competes in the junior colt race in White Swan on the Yakama Nation on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Cowboys change clothes after competing in the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race in White Swan on the Yakama Nation on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

A junior rider takes a spill during the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race in White Swan on the Yakama Nation Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Sisters Peggie Heemsah, left and Alicia Heemsah cook fry bread and Indian tacos at the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race in White Swan on the Yakama Nation on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Casey Heemsah, 29, left, and Emery Benson relax after the first day of the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race in White Swan on the Yakama Nation. Benson said native tribes have been breaking untamed horses for centuries, using them for transportation to sustain their livelihood. "It's an excitement that brings us life," he said. "We are horse people."

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Cowboys from around the Northwest participated in the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race in White Swan on the Yakama Nation on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Marcus Shock, 24, feeds unbroken horses after the first day of the Heemsah Memorial Wild Horse Race in White Swan on the Yakama Nation on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013.

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Most Popular Comments
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This is not taming horses. This is abusing horses. These animal are frightened. ... MORE
I agree, this is just terrible to see. They are using positive punishment, learned help... MORE
Looks like a great event. I hope after that ride Danny Heemsah and Adrian Jackson won. MORE

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