The Omak Suicide Race

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It’s that time of year again!  With the second week of August now behind us we’ve seen the completion of another Omak Suicide Race and the death of another horse.

Still from the above 2006 video by the Humane Society of the United States.

You know, they call it a “suicide” race but the word suicide implies some sort of willful decision and intention.  I was not aware horses were suicidal.  The riders, sure! I could see that.  But, then again, we’re not reading article after article (see all the links in the post?) about dead people.  No! It’s the horses who are suffering as the people continue to defy death.

The origin of the Omak Suicide Race stems from “a rite of passage, a demonstration of our young warriors and their horses’ ability to become one”, or so says The Suicide Racers Owners and Jockeys Association in this article from  Although, if you check out the website of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation there’s no mention of horses at all, nor is there any mention of either on their Wiki entry. Clearly their horse/warrior history is top secret; very hush hush. So even if the race does have it’s roots in Native American endurance races (as per Wiki) were they really THAT important to the tribes?  Important enough to continue to this day, knowing the inherent risks to horse and rider? -especially horse.  Interesting tidbit: the Suicide Race was started in 1935 by a local business owner to help promote the Omak rodeo and drum up business for local merchants. I think maybe I missed something in school because that’s not what I picture when I think “warrior”.

While I haven’t been able to find any information to really justify the “rite of passage” claim, several articles report that 23 horses have died in this event since 1983.  The most recent horse to perish, Little Big Man, didn’t even die in the race itself!  Oh no, he broke his leg in aqualifying event!  It’s not just the race you gotta worry about, it’s getting there that’ll kill ya too!

From an article on CBS News, a volunteer at the race provided some information, undoubtedly meant to assuage concerns for the horse’s safety, “She said horses are thoroughly prepared and that there are rescue boats and ambulances on both sides of the river and in the arena.”  Oh good so they were there, watching as Little Big Man drowned last Thursday?  In all the articles written in the last few days, some report Little Big Man being euthanized, others report that he broke his leg and was unable to swim across the river, drowning and washing up on shore a short ways down river. What good are rescue boats and ambulances to horses?  Rarely is a broken leg fixed!  And for all their claims that the racing horses are “extremely valuable” (this from Omak City Administrator Ralph Malone in this article from Mail Online) how valuable are they really once the structural integrity of their bone is compromised?  The horse certainly wouldn’t be fit to race again! So what then? Is there a lucrative breeding career for Omak Suicide Race survivors?  Somehow I doubt that.

Hold the phone! They pray before sending horses potentially to their deaths: “There is an opening prayer before the race and city officials deny any claims of animal abuse”.  This from the article by Mail Online.

Is there anyone, anywhere more deserving of this? (for the sake of what’s left of my sanity, do NOT answer that!)

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  1. Posted by Insomniac, at Reply

    ooooh but they pray? They must love their horses if they pray for them! >_____>

    I hate this event. It’s disgusting. I’d much rather the natives find some motorbikes to replace their horses and ride down the hill with no helmets on. I’d pay to see that, and I bet the horses would too.

    • Posted by Kat, at Reply

      Wow ? Really ? How prejudice are you ? Does anyone have the right to judge or belittle another’s beliefs and practices ? I’m extremely insulted and disappointed that anyone would insult, or discredit our  heritage , beliefs , or religion . No matter how disturbing it may seem to you. I do understand the concern for the horses , or possible reasons to stop this event . But the the comments made towards native’s or this tribe is despicable and you all should be ashamed of yourselves.
      Another half breed…..

  2. Posted by Jennifer R, at Reply

    I don’t get why it can’t be modified to be safer for the horses while still testing the riders’ skills.

    I mean, people do endurance races all the time without as many problems as this one. What gives?

  3. Posted by Anne, at Reply

    This is insane! I also think that the Chuck wagon races at the Calgary Stampede is no better. Over fifty horses have died in this race including three this year. They are all hitched together and forced to run like hell with a chuck wagon attached. Many times they die of heart failure or broken limbs. Once one goes down the others get hurt badly or die as well. They have tarps ready and ambulances too so they can euthanize right on the spot. No one seems to able to stop this barbaric race. Horses are dying and it keeps on going!!

    • Posted by Monica Morais, at Reply

      Oh great. One more race to haunt my dreams now…

  4. Posted by Brit, at Reply

    I live not far from Omak and have watched this event a few years back. I actually remember reading about this in my PNW History book, I thought it looked horrible and cruel. After watching it i dont feel like its such a bad event yes dangerous but isnt eventing or steeplechasing?? And they take good safety measures like the boats and ambulances. right after the race i watched the riders rush their horses back to the trailer and immediately ice legs and tend to any sratches ect. See all that i cant believe they let a horse drown! That is unacceptable!

  5. Posted by Spots, at Reply

    An endurance ride would far better test a rider’s skill at conditioning and skillfully riding their horse through a set course. The horses are vet monitored at frequent check points and those deemed not fit, are pulled at these points. The idea is to get your horse to the finish line in the best possible condition that you can – not just being first to cross the line regardless of the risks and dangers you put your horse in.

  6. Posted by Janalina, at Reply

    This is macho bullshit, period!

  7. Posted by horsegal, at Reply

    This is the same group of natives who you wrote about who are abusing foals at their White Swan Treaty Days rodeo in one of your older commentaries this year. Scumbag group of animal abusers :(

    • Posted by 48northfarm, at Reply

      When I saw this on the local news–KING5 in Seattle–I knew it belonged here. I’m glad to see it posted. Although they have ambulances at the ready at the race, those are not for the horses, and I suspect that once a horse has survived the race it would not do the race again. It doesn’t know what’s ahead until it’s too late the first time, but surely wouldn’t try it again once it knew.

      As far as icing the horse’s legs after the race, give me a break. If they were concerned about the horse’s welfare they wouldn’t race it in the first place. What part of “horses die in this race” do they not understand? And comparing the Suicide Race with eventing or steeplechasing is not fair: eventing and steeplechasing result in horse or rider death on occasion, but they are not as filled with death as this race, and are much more controlled. A death in eventing or steeplechasing is a freak happening, not routine as in this race.

      And “horsegal”, it’s not the Indians that are promoting the race, the race was started by a white business owner using the Indian culture as a basis for having the race. Nobody can find anything to prove the Suicide Race was actually a manhood test for the local Indians.

      • Posted by horsegal, at Reply

        But it is the Indians that hold the race on their land & if they’re so “in touch with the earth & animals” they’d put a stop to it. NO EXCUSES ACCEPTABLE!!!

        Like I wrote, same group condones the abuse of foals at their rodeo in their childrens version of “wild horse breaking”, except they use WEANLINGS & 3 little brats manhandle the foals aggressively & get one of the little brats on their back.
        RIDING & ABUSING WEANLINGS is unforgiveable.
        I have no respect for this band of Natives who obviously don’t give a shit about horses.

        And no I’m not a racist & have many Native friends myself & none of them condone this crap.

        I hate all animal abusers equally, no matter what colour they are.

        Snarkyriders post on that rodeo

        Pics from that rodeo:

  8. Posted by Monica Morais, at Reply

    “You know, they call it a “suicide” race but the word suicide implies some sort of willful decision and intention. I was not aware horses were suicidal.” Those were exactly my thoughts the first time I heard about it. Right before i thought: WHY OH WHY! Doesn’t anyone put an end to this atrocity?!

  9. Posted by Willowshome2, at Reply been there & have seen this debacle called a race! seen the poor horses quivering in fear at the top of the hill while the native get their courage from a bottle seen horses drown & I hope to God I never have to watch that again!!
    lets let the natives go down that hill at top speed & if the horses want to follow they can at their own speed ….not “encouraged” on with aluminum base ball bats!….as I said before been there & seen that!

  10. Posted by jane, at Reply

    Brain dead idiots riding horses to their death, being watched by stupid brain dead idiots. Disgusting.

  11. Posted by Small time hay, at Reply

    First off last time I looked it wasnt just NATIVES riding those horses. Second off everyone complains about the race but no one says anything about the horse that died PRACTICING for that race. Third off is the percentage of deaths greater than that of any other rough horse event?
    That being said
    I dont agree with the Omak Stampede’s race, I dont compete in their rodeo and dont financially support their rodeo by going.
    They can have a less hazardous race and still draw competetors and spectators.
    I know of several people who race in the suicide race that KNOW their going to ruin or seriously hurt their horses doing it so they buy horses from the sales barn two weeks before. If you havent noticed most of the sale barns run a special horse sale anywhere from one month to one week before the race. They take them home pour hot feed into them along with other things im sure, race them hard then they dump them at Chucks or another sales barn (again, they run the horse sales the day after the race). They pick the horses up cheep than its not such a big deal to them when the horse dies or is injured. They should make a rule that each horse must be bought and have been owned by the same person for a min of 6 month before the race and can not be sold within 6 months after the race.

  12. Posted by Small time hay, at Reply

    Sorry I meant HORSES that died practicing for the race. Little big man was the only one they reported on. There were 3 others that died practicing for that race.

  13. Posted by lisa, at Reply

    Do all of you live in urban areas?

  14. Posted by Kat, at Reply

    Please think about the comments you make towards an entire tribe or all native Americans. And refrain from belittling and trying to discredit our beliefs and practices. Most cultures have had vulgar, or inhamane practices and ceremony’s in the passed. I feel abused after reading these comments. I’ve never been to or completely approved of this event due to the death’s but I defiantly can’t take this side now.

    • Posted by Theresa Nolet, at Reply

      Kat you are correct when you say most cultures have had vulgar or inhumane practices in the past. However this is not in the past it is very much in the present. As for being racist, hiding behind your culture as an excuse for any type of abuse whether towards an animal or person is the worst kind of racism there is. The real component of evil here is the almighty dollar and that has no race attached to it, white, black red or any mixture of colors fall prey to it, and all humans for eternity have sold their souls chasing it.
      I personally have known people who raced in this event and while their horse was not killed during the event it was shot in their back yard shortly after. A fatality that will never be officially connected to the race, but it died for the entertainment of those who view animals as a object serving as a means to an end, which always involves money. Cruelty has no race barrier, and until we as a group can gather together as compassionate beings who see beyond the physical appearance, we are condemned to live in a world where money rules, and to hell with love and peace, which are really what people are trying to buy with the money they desperately seek.