MERLIN, ridden by Dana Stiles, is a dapple grey Appendix, but as he ages, is turning a ghostly white. He will be 21 years old this spring and is a Quarter Horse/Thoroughbred mix. Dana bought Merlin at an equipment auction in Dotsero, Colorado in 1999. “He was standing amongst a bunch of tractors”, she says. Dana started racing with Merlin in 2000 and says affectionately, “He has bucked me off more than any other horse I have owned!” Last year, despite his advancing age, Merlin had his best year ever in skijoring competition. When asked if Merlin has any quirks, Dana says, “He hates plastic bags!”
RED LODGE, ridden by Jeff Dahl, is 7/8 Quarter Horse and 1/8 Thoroughbred. He is a roan with a classic white star on his forehead. He was bred to run skijor races up in Red Lodge, Montana, hence, his name and this is where Jeff acquired him. Red Lodge started competing at the age of 2 and has been racing for 20 years now. Jeff confesses that Red Lodge has bucked off most other riders which he calls “check out time” on Red Lodge.
Red Lodge and Jeff Dahl are perhaps one of the most photographed “couple” in the horse world. In 2010, Mark Fox of the Associated Press won Best Action Photo with a photograph he took of Red Lodge and Jeff pulling his son, Greg, in Leadville. As horses go, Jeff says that Red Lodge has a faster start than Merlin, but Merlin has a longer stretch, so he needs to get out of the gate fast if he is going to win.
ROCKET, is a Quarter Horse Tobiano Paint colt also ridden by Jeff Dahl. Rocket is very photogenic and has been racing for 4 years. His parents are named Rocket Wrangler and Dash for Chloe. Rocket likes to do a little yoga or stretching before a competition.
TANK, ridden by Savannah McCarthy, is a 9 year old Quarter Horse gelding and is dark brown in color. Tank’s father is Super de Kas, a well-known race horse, and his mother, a Corona Cartel mare. He was raised in La Salle, Colorado. While Tank was a match racehorse, he is “ink free” meaning his lip was never tattooed. Tank ran to victory two years in a row with Savannah at the reins (at age 13 and 14) taking Leadville by storm. When asked what Tank likes, Tim replied, “Carrots and Savannah, simple as that.”
TANNER, ridden by Will James, is a 14 year old Appendix who has been skijoring for 10 years. Will raised him from a colt. He is a Quarter Horse/Thoroughbred mix and is Buckskin in color. Tanner’s bloodline has been in Will’s family for 30 years. When asked if Tanner likes skijoring, Will laughed and replied, “Well, he throws a fit at the start, but once he’s goin’ he’s good.” Will and Tanner have won the Open Division in Minturn, Leadville and Red Lodge.
RED, Will James’ other horse, is an Appendix and sorel in color. He is 15 years old and has competed for 4 years now. Will says Red went from “starved to death to a winner.” Will adopted Red, who had been abandoned, and trained him to skijor himself.
ELLIOT, ridden by Erica Hutchings, while now in retirement at Erica’s ranch in Idaho, is worth an honorable mention. Elliott is an Appendix gelding. He is 22 years old. Elliott, a bay, was purchased in New Mexico off the match horse racing track and the tattoo on his lip is testament to this fact. Elliott has a habit of rearing up at the start when Erica is staging him, and her father speculates that this is why the racecourse people sold him. Erica takes it is stride, however, and as the announcer in Jackson commented from the podium last year, “It looks like we got a rodeo goin’ on here!” Elliott has the ability to “kick it into that extra gear” and that’s what has made him so special and fun to watch. Elliott, after a successful skijoring career, is now simply “learning how to be a horse”.