Stampeders pack fear & adrenaline under the lights

Fear - the heart-stopping, nightmare-inducing kind - is part of the excitement for the Snake River Stampeders.

The 16-woman equestrian drill team has been galloping horses in the dark since 1997.

"I think we all were a little nuts," said Stampeder Brandi Horsley-Krajnik. She's the only original Stampeder still riding with the team today.

"[It takes] someone who likes living on the edge a little bit, and someone who can ride well," Horsley-Krajnik said.

Each April, the team holds tryouts for interested riders. No riders are guaranteed a spot from one year to the next.

"It is a total rush!" said fourth-year Stampeder Rachel Kretzschmar.

As good as the riders are, as good as the horses are; the lights the team wears are why it works.

"Each light has a little velcro in the back," said second-year Stampeder Heather Miner. She pulled back her sleeve to show one plug, and un-tucked another plug from her belt.

"We have plugs all over. The hat cord runs down our arm, and on each saddle there are two battery packs," Miner explained.

The Stampeder's LED lighting system is in its third generation. Each horse and rider wears 175 lights, powered by two 12-volt batteries. Plug connections are taped together with electrical tape before each show.

"Color matters," co-drill instructor Randi Wood said. "We always run this drill in two or four colors."

Alternating colors is how the riders keep their place in line - and in the very dangerous crossing figure-eight part of the performance.

"The first time I practiced in the dark, my lights went out," Miner said. "Pretty scary. The drill instructors are great. [They] always tell us to stay in our positions no matter what, and everything was okay."

That was not the case during a performance in 2011, when rider Dusti Olson's lights went out and she crashed into another rider. Olson, now the Caldwell Night Rodeo Queen, left the arena on a stretcher but didn't suffer serious injury.

"Each night, we hold our breath and hope they come out all in one piece," co-drill instructor Paula Vanhoozer said.

"They've got to be really conscientious of their spacing and their place in the arena in order to stay safe," she said.

By all accounts - they do. Crashes are rare, and the team is fairly superstitious when talking about that aspect of what they do.

"That's part of the fun, just knowing that something could happen," Miner said. "You have to really pay attention, you have to really stay in your spot and everybody stays safe."