It is the kind of sporting event that could only have evolved out of a bar bet, and that is exactly the origin story behind the Prescott, Arizona Man Against Horse Race that saw its origins four decades ago.
It all began in a bar in 1983, when Gheral Brownlow bet his friend and cowboy Steve Rafters that he could beat his horse, on foot, in a race. The current event includes a 50-mile, 25-mile, and half-marathon race. The horses run alongside the runners and the first horse and rider (or runner) to cross the finish line wins. There are several vet checks for the horses along the route and the time they are stopped for this is subtracted from their overall time. The organizers warn that “the 25- and 50-mile courses are extremely strenuous … should not be undertaken without significant preparation.”
In other words, months of training goes into preparing for the race that includes riding over rough, steep, and rocky terrain. Organizers describe the route as mountainous trails and back roads with an elevation at base camp of approximately 5,000 ft and the 50-mile course climbing to an elevation of 7,500 ft.
According to the race manual, awards are also given out for Best Conditioned Horse. Other rules include multiple vet checks for the welfare of the horses, who are required to be shod. Mules are allowed. Oh, and you can’t race bareback – although one wonders why you’d even try!
An interesting section in the manual contains the rules and recommendations concerning lighting for those early starts and late finishes. The management team “strongly recommends that only red headlamps be used while progressing down the trail. Other colors of lights including white, blue, and green have been proven to negatively impact equine night vision.” Rider must turn off lights at the request of other riders. And glow sticks attached to the front of the horse are permitted, but not at the back of the rider or tail of the horse.
This year’s winner of the 50-mile race on horseback was Jennifer Herbert. Traditionally, the race was always won by a horse and rider – until 2019, when Nick Coury blasted around the course in just over six hours to finish far ahead of the nearest horse. He repeated this feat again in 2020:
The Arizona race isn’t the only of its kind; this type of competition is also held in Wales, Scotland and New Zealand.
Watch a video of the 2021 race here: