Though courses and rules differ from host to host, competitions are timed races on set courses that typically include gates, jumps, and hanging rings. A rider on horseback pulls the skier, who must turn at the gate, go over the jumps, and spear the rings with a handheld baton. Time penalties are assessed for missing jumps or gates or for missing or dropping any of the rings. A team is also charged a penalty if a skier drops the baton or if a skier, rider, or horse knocks a ring off the support. A team is given credit for any ring that’s displaced during the run, knocked off its rigging by wind, snow clumps from the horse hooves, and so on.
A “clean run,” without any penalties, is needed to win. The skier must be on at least one ski and holding the towrope, and the rider must be on horseback when crossing the finish line. Protests—you are mixing cowboys and skiers, after all—must be presented to the course director before the next team enters the course.