Meath pair win unusual winter sport event – pulled by horses on a sofa built on skis

Irish friends fighting to defend their title at an extreme winter sports competition in Canada lost their bid but won another unusual event.

Susan Oakes and her best friend Barry O’Brien Lynch failed to defend their sprint title at the Skijordue Festival in Calgary but won Saturday’s Alpine Lounge race. They also came second in the long jump.

Skijoring is North America’s fastest growing winter sport and consists of a horse pulling a skier over obstacles through the snow at breakneck speeds of up to 40 miles per hour.

Their new accolade involved the pals both sitting on a couch with a table and lamp, and being pulled across the snow at breakneck speed by two horses and riders.

Susan and Barry were the only team from Europe among up to 200 participants from across Canada and the US who took part.

The friends from Navan, Co. Meath shocked the skijoring world when they became the first Irish team ever to win the prestigious 2.5m sprint race at the festival just before Covid-19 hit in 2020.

Barry, 43, was even dubbed a “tractor guy” by competitors, who marveled at how the duo had practiced with no snow using a tractor pulling Barry in a sled over a carpet roll. This time, her off-snow training technique consisted of Susan on horseback dragging Barry behind her on skis tied to skateboards.

At the Alpine Lounge, participants are seated on sofas, complete with tables and lamps, and are dragged across the snow at breakneck speed

The victory was all the more impressive when in 2005 the accomplished horseback rider Susan (39) was told by doctors that she could only ride for two more years due to an autoimmune disease and was recovering after a remarkable recovery after a fall from a horse in 2016 left her at her an acquired brain injury.

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They entered the competition after Susan, who holds a Guinness World Record for tallest side-saddle jump at six feet eight inches, met skijor event organizer Sam Mitchell while she was competing in Canada.

Sam then visited Ireland where she told Susan and Barry about Skijor during a night out at their local pub in Navan, Co. Meath and the two friends jumped at the opportunity to attend.

After the festival, Susan from Calgary said, “We had the best time ever. We competed in everything and the lounge race was amazing. It’s very hard to describe the backlash of the snow when you’re being dragged across it so quickly It’s like being bombarded in the face with hailstones multiplied by 10. Very painful but so much fun.

“The lounge race must consist of a loveseat, a coffee table and a lamp. We sat on the sofa, were pulled by two riders on two horses, and all the furniture had to be intact by the end of the race.

“Overall we’ve been a lot more competitive this year and have done really well at every event, even winning our heat in the relay. Everyone was so welcoming again and it was just great to see everyone.

“We came back to Calgary as reigning champions, not underdogs anymore, so the other competitors really played their best game, but I think all the training and hard work has paid off.”


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Skier Barry O’Brien Lynch said: “This time should always be different, we wiped a few eyes when we won the blue ribbon sprint race in 2020.

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“Everyone here is so supportive and happy to see us again, maybe just to put ourselves in our shoes,” he laughed.

“There’s a huge fan base for this sport over here and it’s a great spectacle with the high risk and high speed nature of the events – and it looks like this sport will continue to grow exponentially.”

Skijor Canada was formed in 2017 as a volunteer organization to facilitate safe and consistent development of the sport nationally with the goal of forming a racetrack culminating in a Canadian Championship event in Calgary.

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