OMAK, Wash. - KING 5 News has learned a horse died after injuring its leg while attempting to qualify for the World Famous Suicide Race at the Omak Stampede.
The Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle says the horse Little Big Man stumbled at the bottom of the race hill Friday as it entered the Okanogan River. The horse, owned by Jerry Ford of Wellpinit, was attempting to complete the final qualifying test for the races later this week.
Pete Palmer of the Owner's and Jockey's Association told the Chronicle that the owners, jockeys and horses train hard for the race and a loss impacts the entire racing community.
The association sanctions the Suicide Race, which began in 1935. Three horses died in 2004, the last year a horse was lost.
Jason Palmer was a race judge when that happened.
Palmer said, "We told the jockey, okay this is your last chance. One of the veteran jockeys said, 'Okay, come over behind me.' They come over the hill and the horse broke over. You could see the jockey got his confidence and kind of let the horse go. They weren't in full control. When they hit the bottom of the river down here, the horse stepped hard."
In the suicide race held each night of the four-day Omak Stampede, riders on horseback run their mounts down a steep, 200-foot hill and into the Okanogan River. Animal welfare groups, including PAWS of Lynnwood, have come out against the suicide race.
Spokesman Mark Coleman said, "What it is, is animal abuse, pure and simple. For some reason, there's an exception against rodeos. So if you have a rodeo, you can have all the animal abuse that you want."
Jason Palmer says the race has been part of the stampede officially for 77 years, but dates back to the middle of the 1800s.