KLAMATH FALLS - An unusual athletic event that's part horse race, part marathon and traces its roots to the Old West will hold its national championship on July 9-10 near Klamath Falls, with a group of Oregon State University veterinary faculty and students on hand to make sure everything runs smoothly.

This "Ride and Tie" race will cover 38 miles of rugged central Oregon terrain, with two-person teams sharing one horse and alternating rides. While one person rides on ahead, the other runs. Then the rider stops, sprints ahead while the tied-up horse rests, and the trailing runner catches up for a turn riding.

It's a strenuous event for the horses and grueling for the runners, said Linda Blythe, associate dean of the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine and coordinator of the veterinary team.

"We have to do pre- and post-race lameness and fitness exams for about 80 horses, take pulse and respirations and do other exams during the race," Blythe said. "It's a lot of fun and a great learning experience for our veterinary students. The prime objective is to get all horses through the race safely."

At least seven students will assist in the race, said Blythe, who has 25 years of working with students on this event. Three other local veterinary doctors who are experienced in this type of athletic event are also assisting.

"The start of the race conjures up visions of a cavalry charge, followed by the infantry, with all the riders speeding off in front of the runners," said Jill Bartlett, an OSU veterinary research assistant. "There is also the occasional riderless horse, to the dismay of some hapless, unseated rider. But the race usually runs quite smoothly, unless a waiting horse manages to untie himself and streak off down the trail before his teammate catches up to him."

This leap-frog style of travel, Bartlett said, actually used to be a fairly common way for two people who only had one horse to quickly travel long distances without wearing out their horse. It was first cited as far back as the 17th century, she said, but now is used by enthusiasts as an interesting twist for an endurance race.

Veterinary students who will be assisting in the race include Leah Strickland, Albany; Ellie Hansen, Beaverton; Elizabeth Leaf and Hannah Turner, Portland; Wendy Krebs, Canby; and Sabine Klemens and Barbara Born, from Germany.

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Linda Blythe, 541-737-6945