A wheeled chariot. A rider in leather chaps. A team of horses. A cheering crowd.
On a sunny weekend in the middle of the Wyoming winter, masses of people gather on the snow for the annual high-speed, uniquely Western, most epic winter tailgate party in the West: The Cutter Races.
Under a February sun, horses paw the ground as their handlers parade them in front of a crowd ready and willing to bet on their success in the upcoming race. An auctioneer’s near-incomprehensible slur of numbers and words barks though a loud speaker over the sea of people; men and women consult each other and pool their money, casting bets on red or green.
As drivers grow busy readying the chariots, jitters build and spread electrically through the crowd. Teams are escorted by riders on horseback to the starting gates.
Through the masses of tailgaters deep in their Budweisers, red Shriners’ hats bob along the course. Preparation for the annual fundraiser, now in its 45th year, has paid off once again: hundreds of trucks neatly line the groomed track, tailgates down, platforms up, heaters plugged in. Every bet, each dollar laid down toward this team or another, raises 15% for Shriners Hospitals around the nation.
As the sun’s warmth begins to defeat the chill in the air, lawn chairs snap open. More tailgates hinge downward, propping up tables of chips, bratwursts, and Bloody Mary stations. More beverages slide into coozies, cold from being nestled into natural snow-bank coolers.
Over a sea of cowboy brims and Kromer caps, the race officiant drops the flag and the race begins. Tearing down the wide, groomed field of snow, pairs of horses charge full speed ahead, bedecked with crisp, bright socks and tails woven-through with glittering ribbons. Carrying a single-man chariot behind them and gaining speed, the carriages cut into the perfect snow on the track, spraying spectators who line the fences. Neck and neck, the drivers shout at the top of their lungs, goading their teams forward an extra foot, an extra inch, anything to take the lead and enter into sweet victory.
Finished almost as quickly as it began, the race is over. Money changes hands, beers are tipped back, another burger sizzles as it is flipped on the grill. The dark forms of ravens circle overhead, seemingly oblivious to the heart-pounding excitement unfolding below. Heat after heat, the excitement never dulls, never becomes one ounce less enrapturing.
For this Wyoming town, the Cutter races embrace all the positive parts of February, and for an excellent cause. Between the mud, the excitement, or the thrill of betting on a horse team, it’s the joy of being together with community and the simple pleasure of watching a good, old-fashioned race that make the Cutters an experience to remember.
Images © Taylor Glenn