Steamboat Springs Ghost and Goblin were bred to race, so they grow a little restless when owner Sarah May tries to braid their manes and spray glitter stars on their flanks.
At age 12 and 11, respectively, Ghost and Goblin have long retired from individual competitions, but the two, with May at the reins, make a strong chariot racing team for Mystic Star Ranch.
"They are fun," May said, while preparing the horses for competition, along with her sister Lisa Chabot. "They are good boys. They were raised to race so they have that high-strung mentality."
The horses' upbringing, however, makes them almost useless for work at the S-S Ranch outside of Steamboat, where the Mays live. Goblin is the only one of the two that can even be ridden with a saddle.
But boy, can they raise some dust.
Ghost, as his name suggests, is white, while Goblin is gray. Both are registered quarterhorses, making chariot racing a suitable event for them to continue quenching their competitive itch.
The chariot race is a quarter-mile long, and two teams with similar times are paired against each other. The best time Ghost and Goblin have run is a 22.74, which was good enough to qualify them for the World Championships in Ogden, Utah. The best time May has gotten out of her own horses is a 22.76. She and her husband, Jay, were on vacation in Florida when a friend notched the 22.74.
On Saturday, May was pitted against local rider Richard Green and horses Checkin The Chicks and Country. Green won with a time of 23:56. May came in one blink later at 23:58. Shane Yeager recorded the top overall time, 22:25, on Spike and Spot in the last race on Saturday.
Chariot racing has been popular in the Yampa Valley for years, Jay May said, but a summer series picked up several years ago, much to the liking of Sarah and her horses.
"It's bloody cold during the winter," she said.
Work has been done to ensure there's a hard dirt pack safe for the horses to sprint upon at the track outside Brent Romick Arena for the summer events. For further protection, however, most owners tape up the rear legs of their horses to protect their tendons and their investment.
The drivers, meanwhile, often wear helmets, knee guards and quadriceps cushions to protect their legs from the repeated slamming against the chariot sustained while practicing and racing.
But some drivers, like May, enjoy turning the event into a style show as well. Green came out against May wearing a toy breastplate similar to the ones worn by the ancient Romans who raced chariots. In his earlier race, he wore a suit coat.
Robin Sis and Marilyn Turner dressed their horses as if they were going out for a formal night on the town. Sis' horses, Rockacita Fire and Some Kinda Receipt, appeared ready to strut on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, resplendent in bright greens, pinks and yellows on their heads on flanks. Dose and Vegas, Turner's horses, celebrated the Fourth of July holiday weekend in red, white and blue from head to the ball at the tip of their tails.
Most of the competitors are familiar with each other and the horses. Training tips, however, are like family recipes not to be shared.
"Ah, I can't tell you. That's a trade secret," Jay May said when asked about what he feeds Ghost and Goblin. "There's a lot of stuff on the market."
But the biggest training advantage of all might be the camaraderie between the horses. Though Ghost started a little slow and Goblin slipped up slightly during Saturday's race, the two were bought together, and the Mays intend on keeping it that way.
"You wouldn't want to split this team up," Jay May said. "The other would die of a broken heart."
He admitted his wife might to should she lose her racing partners.
May, Ghost and Goblin, along with the rest of the chariot-racing field, return to action at 11 a.m. today at the south side of Romick Arena.
Admission is free, and fans can watch more than the horses and drivers.
Owner Marilyn Lewis of Casper, Wyo., made the trip to Steamboat to see her team of Black and Blue clock a time of 24:45. Much like a proud mother, she stood out on the track nervous and screaming as the horses thundered toward her in a cloud of smoke.
She moved in time to watch the 2-year-olds, driven by George Spiva, cross the line first in their first race ever.
"It's the biggest rush you can get," she said.