Racing Horses–Prestigious? Or Bizarre?

My newest book, KIDNAPPED BY THE COWBOY, is in stores now.  Yee-haw!! 

 While writing KIDNAPPED BY THE COWBOY, I envisioned my hero, TJ Grier, having a thoroughbred horse as fine and swift as any capable of running—and winning—in today’s Kentucky Derby.  In the story, TJ risks all he has to buy this horse, down to his last dime.  He believes his horse, Blue Whistler, will be his salvation.

          So, to justify TJ’s goal, I had to build up to a race that was the race of all races.  But I had no idea if a competition as prestigious as the Kentucky Derby even existed in my time period of 1896, Texas.

I delved into the research and learned there wasn’t.

But here’s a bit of what I found–trivia about the Kentucky Derby.

          **Its predecessor, the Derby, was organized in England and held its first run in 1780.  Legend goes that in their desire to name the race, the 12th Earl of Derby tossed a coin with Sir Charles Bunbury.  Derby won, of course, but Bunbury goes down in the history books as being the owner of the very first Derby winner, Diomed.

         ** The American version of the Derby, the most prominent horse race in our country, was held at Churchill Downs on May 17, 1875.  The Kentucky Derby has never missed a race and each race has always been run at the same track.

          **A jockey club is not a club of jockeys, but instead a governing board of horsemen who regulate racing.

          Organized horse racing grew in popularity in Texas in the nineteenth century—in fact as early as 1838, the Houston Jockey Club formed; in 1869, so did the Dallas Jockey Club.  Fort Worth and Amarillo clubs eventually came, too.

          Races were held at state fairs and expositions, as I depicted in KIDNAPPED BY THE COWBOY.   Folks loved to come from miles around, not only for the entertainment, but for their gambling pleasures, too.  Race tracks were populated by bookies and harlots, military men, miners, Indians and Mexicans, as well as caravans of entire families crowding the roads with rigs of all shapes and sizes.  In addition to currency, wagers ranged from cattle, gold dust, gold mines, articles of clothing (baby slippers or serapes, to name a couple!) even the occasional piano.

          Folks took their betting seriously.  One large-boned wife of a small-boned jockey—so the story goes—put so much faith in her husband’s ability to win a certain race that she plunked her entire savings of $800 on the match.  Alas, his horse lost, and in her fury, she stuffed the little man into a sack and threw him into the river.  Luckily, a few of his quick-thinking neighbors dragged him out.

          Because of their ability to run fast for short distances up to a quarter mile, the quarter-horse was a favorite race-horse in the West.  They were compactly-built, strong, and able to make abrupt, sharp moves.  Cowboys were used to riding them during roundups and while working with cattle, so it’s little wonder spontaneous contests were cheered on in town streets, so many that laws had to be passed banning them.

Here’s a few of the more unusual games that cowboys around the world loved to master:


**The rooster shoot.  Despite its name, this one had nothing to do with a rooster.  The men lashed their right wrists together with rawhide thongs while mounted in the saddle.  At a signal, the horses began to race side by side until one rider pulled the other off his horse.  The winner was the man who was the strongest and most able to keep his seat.  Yeesh! 

**Roping grizzly bears.  Oh, my.  This one was especially popular in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.  Several cowboys would lasso the bear around his feet and neck, choking off his air to subdue him.  They’d then trail him back to town, taunting him along the way, baiting him to charge.  Once in town, they’d find a wild bull and pit them against each other.  Spectators cheered to see the bear kill the bulls until he eventually succumbed himself from being gored so many times.

 **Chicken pulling.  Now I wrote about this game in my book, THE MERCENARY’S KISS.  Using a rooster, duck or chicken, cowboys would either tie the bird to a tree or–more commonly–bury the chicken in the ground up to its neck.  Horsemen would race up to the bird, and whoever plucked it out of the ground was chased by the other riders.  The first rider to cross the finish line with the bird in hand was the winner–and got to keep the chicken as his prize.  (In Mexico, the vaqueros took the winnings a step further–by grandly presenting the fowl to the woman he most wanted to impress.)

So how about you?  Do you love horse races?  Or another kind of race?  What really gets the adrenaline going for you?  What have been some really bizarre races you’ve seen?  Or participated in?

Share your story, and you’ll be eligible to win a copy of KIDNAPPED BY THE COWBOY, the sequel to UNTAMED COWBOY!



Website | + posts

Pam has written 30 romances, most of them historical westerns, but her newest releases are contemporary sweet romances featuring the Blackstone Ranch series published by Tule Publishing. Stay up on the latest at

63 thoughts on “Racing Horses–Prestigious? Or Bizarre?”

  1. That cowboy can kidnap me anytime! Thanks for the great history information about horse racing. Wow, I didn’t know it dated back to 1875!

    I have never seen a race horse….and the only races I participated in were back in grade school ! LOL But I did enjoy them. Well, I take that back…I am now in the “corporate” race…with no end in site LOL

  2. Im from the south,we have Tennessee walking horses,they dont race but they are beautiful to watch walk an prance,as kids we did however ride goats an race,that was fun,but we had a big billy that was a attack goat,you didnt ride him,he would ram an run you so I guess that was a race,to see if you could out run billy before he got ya good,he really didnt hurt too bad,he just head butted but he was scary as a kid an that was enought,thanks for coming ,welcome Vickie

  3. Hmmmmmmmm – used to race around after my 3 boys, then joined the rat race when I went to work. Now my mind races……….

  4. Pam, your blog took me back to being about ten years old and reading Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books. I loved them, and if memory serves me correctly, they all end in a big, dramatic race of some sort. If not the Derby, then a match race with another stallion or something else.

    When I turned eleven, I wanted to go to the Santa Anita race track for my birthday. Bless my parents, they took my brother and me. It was fun, but the real deal didn’t match the glory in my imagination.

    As for wrestling grizzlies, no thanks! Sounds like a guy thing : )

  5. I loved to race my horse against my brother’s horses. Their horses would beat mine in short spurts, but if I could talk them into racing from the mailbox- I would win everytime. My horse was built to stretch and go the distance.

    My dh and I went to our first “real” horse race at a county fair with some friends. I based which horse would win races-long and short- by how the horses body shape resembled the horses I grew up with. And I actually walked away winning the most money that night.

    If you think back horse racing- chariots and all has been around probably as long as the horse. And people will always have that urge to watch and bet.

    Great Blog, Pam!

  6. Hi Pam!

    The most bizarre race I ever saw was one for fun on a cruise ship…the people had to hold the wooden horses and had to gallop themselves across the deck was pretty funny!!

    I have been to one greyhound race in my life and that was pretty interesting too!

    I have never been to a horse race, but would love the opportunity to do so!

    My husband and I are big Nascar race fans..we’ve been to a few of those…and boy is it loud!!!

    Hope you have a great day and I hope this post makes it’s way to where it’s suppose to be…none of my replies do that lately!! LOL

  7. Great post. Even though I live in Kentucky, I have never been to the Kentucky Derby but I watch it every year on tv. I think the horses are beautiful.

  8. I love the chariot races that are held in conjunction with some chuck wagon races at the rodeos.

    If you can picture this: one cowboy holding the reins of a horse, his knees bent, legs spread-eagle with his feet planted on a 2×4. Between his legs, just beneath his crotch is another section of wood with some sheepskin or similar padding. This is the cowboy’s ‘seat’. Most chariot racers only sit down on the back stretch anyway.

    So in effect, you have a standing cowboy – reins in hand, eating the dust from his and other horses that encircle the complete track.

    It’s actually quite dangerous. But what a race!

  9. Your gorgeous cowboy could kidnap me anytime, Pam. And I loved the beautiful horse pictures. But the cruelty to animals in some of the contests you describe sounds awful–and I’m sure some of that still exists.
    Decades ago I saw a bullfight in Mexico. The costumes, music and pageantry were beautiful, but what they did to the bulls…never again for me.
    Thanks for a great blog!

  10. Hi Pam,
    I love horse races. We have a big track here at Santa Anita that we never miss. We go many times a year. But I agree, the description of some of those games, made me cringe. I guess it’s all what you get used to. Some say the rodeo is cruel to animals, yet I enjoy going. Can’t think those calves love being roped though.

    Great pics and post today! Good luck with your book’s release. Kidnapped has a great cover!

  11. My Mom’s brother, my uncle Denny, was big in the horse races, and so when he passed away, we started a tradition, where every year we all get together and have a blanket race for him. Both of his son, my cousins, are jockeys, and one of them is usually in the race. It is pretty neat. I enjoy the races. Not so much the betting and all, but I think the animals and the outdoors.

  12. Oh, forgive me! It’s a wild day in the Emergency Room where I work. Yeesh! My first chance to log in today, and I’m really sorry to be so late!

    But I want to respond to everyone and will try to do so as soon as I can!

  13. Oooh yummy… great cover… whoo hoo!!! 😉
    I have never heard of chicken pulling, I find that bizarre… The only racing I have seen have been at State Fairs… pigs, dogs, ostriches!

  14. Yikes, the poor bears. But horse-racing is so dramatic and tension-enhancing. Although Barbaro broke my heart as well as the little filly a few weeks ago. It has long been my goal to learn how to ride a horse of any kind LOL but I keep procratinating.

    Another great, informative blog from the Junction! Good luck with the book, Pam and yowza, a cowboy could kidnap the young me any time! (he wouldn’t want me now, sad to say LOL.)

  15. I like to watch the horse races on TV, but I am always afraid that I will see a horse get injured. That happened recently, and it was so sad. I also like to read historicals and contemporaries that feature horses and the relationships that they have with their owners. I am not a horse owner or rider myself, but it doesn’t stop me from enjoying them through books and movies.

  16. Pam, wouldn’t the animal activists have a field day back then? But, some of the things that went on were barbaric and mean.

    I love horse races. I’ve been to a few tracks and placed some small wagers. Never won anything to speak of though. I just love to watch the horses race. Quite a sight. I’m anxious to see what the horse, Big Brown, does this weekend. Sure would be something to have another Triple Crown winner. He’s such a magnificent horse though and deserves the title.

    Congratulations on your book release!! I found a copy in the Hastings here but haven’t had time to read much yet. I know it’ll be great. Wishing you all the luck in the world!

  17. Some of those “games” sounds as cruel as cock fighting and pit bull fighting. But then look back at gladiators – they watched people torn to shreds in the name of entertainment. Yuck.

  18. I have a story for you I probably shouldn’t tell you about me drag racing when i was younger. I use to have a Barrel Racing Horse and my friend i rode with her horse would barely gallop long story short we were riding beside the train track oneday and who would’ve guess a train would choose to come while we were there. Michell’s horses freaked out when the upcoming train blew the horn and took off I didn’t even know her horse could run well that’s all my horses need was some competition and it was on I don’t even think my horses hooves were touching the ground!! Talk about adrenalin rush my heart was beating so fasting I thought I would have a heatattack!! Did I mention her saddle was loose and she was bouncing side to side I had to pin her horse up to the bank to get her horse to stop. What a Day!! What a memory!!




    I’m not kidding. It was at a neighbor’s graduation. They had what looked like a feed bunk. A long narrow wooden table with sides. They’d put the rats (yes, real rats) at one end and start pounding on the sides of the table and just screaming and screaming and riotously noisy.
    Trying to scare the rats into running to the other end of the table.
    First rat wins.
    I think there was some serious drinking going on.
    Also, just guessing, some gambling.
    All I know is I walked around … for the short time I stayed at the party … with my collar clutched tight in one hand after someone came at me with a rat and threatened to drop it down my neck.

    Or maybe I am so traumitized I just was AFRAID someone would do that.

    I HATE RATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. Vickie, I would be scared to death to have a goat chase me–even when I was grown up! But what a sight to see, eh? I bet it was hilarious!

  21. Karen, your mind is in definite race mode. Love the play on words. LOL! And 3 boys to chase after, oh my. I have four girls, but I think boys would be worse. They have far more energy, I think.

  22. I’ve also been to a turkey chase.
    It’s about what it sounds like.
    Catch a turkey and keep it.
    Talk about an incentive to lose!!!!!!!!!

    And a greased pig contest.
    And no, I neither tried to catch a pig or was drafted into service AS the pig. Shut up.
    I was a spectator. Pretty insanely funny.

  23. Vicky, how fortunate you were to be able to go to a formal horse race at such a young age. That you read the Black Stallion series showed your love for horses, and I’m sure the fictional stories really did glorify the real thing in your young mind.

    And wrestling those grizzlies is for lunatics!

  24. Paty, sounds as if you have some pretty good horse sense. I’m glad you were able to pocket some winnings–that’s what makes going to the races such a good time!

    And you know, when I was writing this blog, I was focused on cowboys and racing, but you are so right. The Romans were racing in their chariots long before the cowboys were!! Good point!

  25. Crystal, you’ve never been to the Derby!? For me, that would be a must-see. In fact, I’m curious as to how the beautiful hat tradition got started with the women. That could be some intriguing blog material!

  26. Anita Mae, you did such a good job describing the cowboys’ chariot race. I could just see it in my mind, tho I’ve never seen it at a rodeo. When I lived in western Nebraska, we rodeo’ed often, but they never offered those races.

    Thanks for enlightening us.

  27. Hello, Elizabeth! Thanks for stopping by and reminding us that some of these race events were indeed less than kind to the animals.

    Right away, I thought of boxing. Now that’s a horrific sport. Humans beating up on humans, and then an audience of humans cheering them on. A bit too barbaric for my taste, let me tell you!

  28. Thank you for the informative post. I am not really into horse racing. I guess if I saw one in person someday I would probably find it a bit more fascinating. At least that is what I have been told.

  29. Charlene, you’re always doing fun things out your way. 🙂

    I suppose things get a little rough on the animals at a rodeo but blood normally doesn’t spill, and sometimes the cowboy is the one who’s hurt far worse. The recklessness of it all is what gets the adrenaline going for folks–and the challenge of besting a challenging foe.

    Thanks for the good wishes on KIDNAPPED BY THE COWBOY.

  30. It seems like men always find ways that are a bit (or a lot)barbaric in nature lol. I’ve always loved watching horseracing but now they’re investigating how things are being done that make me think twice (as how dog racing has had lots of problems too). But there is just something romantic when it comes to horses (and cowboys).

  31. It’s so interesting that you have cousins who are jockeys, Amy. What’s involved in a blanket race? It sounds like a lovely tribute to your Uncle Denny.

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing with us today.

  32. Colleen, I think it’d be so funny to watch ostriches race. They’re gangly and awkward-looking. State fairs are great fun, aren’t they? Something for everyone, and wonderful family entertainment.

  33. Pat, Cheryl and Linda–my Filly friends. Thanks for stopping by. I can fairly speculate there was a good number of broken chicken necks in those chicken pulling races.

    And the appeal of cock or pit bull fights escapes me. It’s vicious, imo. Definitely a different mind set for those who love to watch them.

    Linda, thanks for the kind words on the new book. I hope you enjoy it.

  34. Hi, Tanya,

    I felt so-o bad about the filly they had to put down. What a loss, not only to her owners, but to the racing industry.

    And hey, did Charlene tell you your last blog with us got syndicated? Congrats!

  35. Cheryl C, horses have a majestic beauty all their own. Such powerful animals–sleek, graceful and full of spirit, whether they’re wild or thoroughbred.

    You’re not alone in your admiration!

  36. Minna, all the way from Finland! Reindeer races–yes! Now that would be something different for us Americans to see, wouldn’t it?

    And husbands carrying their wives? Hee! I love it!

  37. Yes, Charlene told me. Yee-haw. I’ve been trying to find it if possible LOL. Thanks again, fillies, for inviting me to guest-blog. Too fun. Right now I’m trying to get some actual writing done but visiting the junction several times today is simply too too tempting.

    But better go crash out a few more words. In closing, rat races? YUCK. (I do like hamsters though…)

  38. Hey, Lori! I’m glad you shared your story with us. Obviously, the excitement has stayed with you all these years. But you’re lucky neither one of you were hurt!

  39. Did anyone mention the camel races? I remember
    that they were mentioned in an early Harlequin
    book which was set in Australia. I went to Google
    which mentioned that these races are of ancient
    origin in the Middle East countries of the Persian
    Gulf. Google also mentioned the camel races held
    annually in Australia in Alice Springs. It seems
    I’ve read that there were also such races in the
    desert areas of California, but I’m not positive
    about that one!

    Pat Cochran

  40. Hi Pam, I will be looking for your book Kidnapped by The Cowboy. You see I live in KY and love reading books about KY and it sounds like this one has some history in it. I am looking forward to getting this book. I will look for it next week when I go into town.

  41. I used to have a couple of horses. I’d ride along Riverside Dr., a busy street with few stoplights, and loved to race the cars. Sometimes my horse won–because the cars had to stop at the lone stoplight along that stretch of the road. It was fun to pretend my old horse was a speedy race horse.

  42. Hello, Cherie and Estella!! Glad you’re here!

    Hey, Jeanne, it must be all that testerone in the guys! The rougher it is, the more they like it. Sheesh!

  43. Pat, camel races are a first! Good for you. And I absolutely love it that you took the time to research them for us. How wonderful! Just goes to show how racing has been a part of mankind FOREVER!

  44. Hi, Virginia,

    I really appreciate your interest in KIDNAPPED BY THE COWBOY. It’s set in Texas, tho, not Kentucky, but I had the Derby in mind when I wrote it.

    Thank you!

  45. Whoa… I learned all kinds of stuff in your post today, Pam! I’m not much of a racer of any kind, but I have to say that watching almost any kind of racing does get the adrenaline moving! Yikes on some of them–those poor animals didn’t really get to have much of a good time, there 🙁

    Congrats on Kidnapped by the Cowboy–what a lovely cover! Bet the story’s terrific, too 😉

  46. Pat, I am laughing, because one of my favorite Happy Days episodes was when Richie and his crazy friends were trying to impress girls and told them they were Tunisian camel jockeys.

  47. Drag racing is what gets the adrenaline going for me; the sound of the engines, the smoke from burning tires does it. I watch horse racing on TV occasionally.
    My twin brother raced cars, my other brother raced ski-doos so there is racing in my blood.

  48. Back then we didn’t think much of getting hurt. then you get older and look back and are terrified of things you done and Amazed you survived them.

  49. I hear that the wife carrying contest has spread to the U.S.A. and that the prize winners get is a trip to Finland and to wife carrying contest in Sonkajärvi.

  50. So true, Lori. So true. I remember when I was pregnant with my first baby, Doug borrowed his brother-in-law’s motorcycle and I wanted him to give me a ride. Did I mention I was pregnant? What was I thinking?? My brother had a fit, and I never went, but I would have!

Comments are closed.