Reindeer racing!

The thrill of reindeer racing down the local high street. 10 facts about reindeer racing and where you can see them race around the world. 

The most common form of reindeer racing places one lycra clad skier behind one reindeer with 2-6 human-reindeer pairs racing in any one race. The reindeer are trained to run in a harness trailing a rope. The jockey holds onto the rope and tries not to fall and reach the finishing line first. It’s a dangerous sport but thrilling sport. Due to its high speeds and over excited animals there are often clashes and injuries.

This years winner of the 15,000 krone (approx £1,200) prize money in the Norwegian cup final held in Tromso was 22 year old Nils Kai Ante with his 6 year old reindeer Luostat with the winning time of 16.40 seconds over the 201 meter race. To put that speed into perspective, thats faster than Usain Bolt’s 200m world record of 19.19 seconds set at the 2009 world championships! Nils is an indigenous Sami reindeer herder and comes from a long line of reindeer racers going back over 6 generations. His racing career began when he was just 11 years old. 

What you need to know about reindeer racing

  1. Talent spotting: Potential reindeer racers are spotted young. The qualities trainers look for in a reindeer calf are a stocky strong build, a long body and big feet built for speed with a long nose and head. The bigger the nose and nostrils the better as this allows for a greater lung capacity and fitness. Physique is important but a trainer will also trust gut instinct.
  2. Training: The reindeer starts training when it is 3 years old. Firstly, it learns how to walk on a rein, then how to pull a small sleigh progressing to some speed training with a snowmobile behind the reindeer. 
  3. Jockey: Jockey’s like Nils do a lot of balance and strengthening work to maintain stability when racing and prevent them falling off. They also do miles of cross country skiing every week and thigh strengthening exercises as racers adopt a prolonged ‘squat’ position during the race for streamlining and speed. In the build up to the racing season Nils will train with his reindeer 3 times per week on top of their individual training.  
  4. Weight: All jockeys must weigh over 60kg to compete and they are weighed before each race. As men and women race together, women who are under 60kg have to wear a jacket with lead weights to bring them up to the 60kg requirement.  
  5. Castration: All racing reindeers are male as they are stronger, more competitive and do not nurse young. They are also castrated to reduced their testosterone levels. An “intact’ male reindeer can have a harem of up to 70 females to please and protect from competition. Castration stops them fighting with other male reindeers and losing vital body weight from fighting. Castrated reindeers also do not lose their antlers every year making them ‘prettier’ for spectators.
  6. Speed: Racing reindeers can tow their skiing jockeys at top speeds 37mph, thats faster than a 50cc moped! 
  7. World record: The world record 12-meter reindeer sprint without a skier stands at 14.96 seconds.
  8. Danger: The most dangerous moment in the race is at the start when the reindeer exit the box, they are so excited and may not run straight ahead, causing collisions with other racers.
  9. Retirement: Racing reindeers have short lived careers, beginning aged 4-5 years and retiring by the time they are 8 years old. The life expectancy of a reindeer is 12 years.  
  10. Sami Culture: As well as being exciting to watch, reindeer racing is an important cultural event, bringing together vastly spread communities socially to share their passion for reindeer husbandry, history and the indigenous Sami culture. Competitors travel far and wide from all over the arctic to participate, ensuring community ties remain strong and that the way of life is preserved. Local craft markets, food stalls serving reindeer stew and junior competitions often run alongside these races ensuring that the next generation continues the Sami traditions.

Where else in the world can you see reindeer racing?

Kings cup in Inari, northern Finland

Is the highlight of the reindeer racing calendar as it's the biggest race in the racing calendar and takes place on a frozen lake late March.

The Levi reindeer race in Levi, northern Finland. Also held late spring.

Chilingarvo cup reindeer race, Naryan-Mar Russia, approx 1,500 miles north west of Moscow. Held early spring. Reindeers are considered so important to cultural life and a means of transport to the Indigenous Nenet people that the 2014 Olympic flame passed through on a reindeer sleigh. The police even use reindeers alongside their fleet of cars to patrol.

Anchorage, Alaska, USA Watch men race against reindeers on the same high street track!