I am slightly delayed arriving at the HIPICO Santa Fe equestrian facility, a sprawling green grass arena across from the Santa Fe Regional Airport, because the girl in front of my car is texting and horseback-riding.
HIPICO is home to year-round equestrian events as well as the New Mexico Center for Therapeutic Riding. In the VIP section, where the cash bar and lunch buffet are located, horse show spectators sit on living room couch arrangements beneath a ritzy white tent. I’m headed for the next tent over, where contestants prepare for the wiener dog races.

Geri Eigenberger, the volunteer dachshund race coordinator, greets me with her two dachshunds. Dot has retired from racing, but Peewee is still in the game. “We often have the same winners, so we would love new competitors,” Eigenberger says as we wade through an ankle-height sea of small dogs. 

“Contestants!” shouts a woman with a clipboard, scanning the ground. No one comes.

“Are you looking forward to the race today?” I ask Peewee, who is distracted by an approaching Chihuahua. Obviously he’s pissed. “Why don’t you like little dogs? You are a little dog,” Eigenberger says.

It turns out the reigning champions haven’t arrived. They’re staying cool offsite while the rest of us swelter. I soon learn that all the superstars are not only related in one big, incestuous, extremely good dog dynasty, but they’re all pets of the McElvain family, the HIPICO co-owners who also just really love wiener dogs.

Foxy and Porky, dogs of co-owner Sharon McElvain, are the shoo-ins. They keep up a strict training regimen year-round. “I see [Sharon] at home,” says Hannah Patterman, who works on the McElvain’s ranch, is engaged to Sharon and Guy’s son and also owns a wiener dog. “She lets them out and they go crazy, and she starts the [four-wheeler] and she drives after them as fast as she can until she’s in front of ’em, and then she does a big loop around the ranch, just to keep them fit. They’re athletes.”

Mary Neiberg
Every evening, the dogs run about a mile. “It’s for me too. I get a little wind in my face, get to blow off all the heavy stuff from the day, and we go out on a weenie run.” Sharon says. “And they just go balls-out.”

No one else does that,” says Pattermann.

This is the first of four weekends of racing, part of the HIPICO Summer Series and sometimes referred to as the Chorizo Wiener Race. I ask Pam McGroarty, McElvain’s sister, about the name’s origins. “You can’t call them bratwursts, because we live in America, for God’s sake,” she says.

Are there any surprising but adorable horse-dog friendships? Unfortunately not. “The dogs are fine with the horses,” Pattermann says. “Sometimes they sniff them. Other times they look at them like ‘Holy crap, you’re huge,’ and then walk away.”

Eva Rosenfeld

The dachshund was originally bred in 16th-century Germany to hunt badgers. The breed’s popularity as a US household pet dropped severely during World War II due to its use as a German symbol in Allied propaganda. At the mid-century, however, the dachshund re-entered American hearts and homes, and today it’s one of the most popular breeds. The standard, according to Dachshund Club of America, is “clever, lively and courageous to the point of rashness. … Any display of shyness is a serious fault.” Shy dachshunds be damned!

Organized dachshund racing started in the 1970s, and the 2007 dogumentary Wiener Takes All revealed the sport’s national circuit to be cutthroat. Doping, match-fixing and dog abuse pervaded; at HIPICO, the races are more easygoing.

The starting gate is a large blue rectangular box. The owners drop their confused dogs into individual compartments and close the lid. When the gate bangs open, a few in-the-know dogs shoot straight out, chasing Guy McElvain on his four-wheeler. Most wander circuitously. A corgi runs onto the course even though organizers explicitly said this round was for wiener dogs only. A few rematches occur and it’s extremely difficult to tell who the winner is. Little One and Falafel, Chenoa McElvain’s wieners, start wrestling on the course. (“She’s been emotional lately,” Chenoa says of Falafel.) Somehow, Little One still nabs the win, in an upset for Foxy and Porky, her aunt and uncle. The second race is for all little dogs. Some owners run with their dogs, some stand at the end with turkey sandwiches. A min pin-Chihuahua-dachshund named Jemma wins the round.

Spectator Amelia, who is six and no bandwagoner, says Porky is still her favorite dog. “Maybe when I’m older I can buy a wiener dog, because our Chihuahua isn’t … she could blend in, but she won’t come after … she’ll come after a squirrel …” she considers.

“It was a little bit of a disaster,” Sharon McElvain says. “They were confused because usually they go with me. So when Guy got on the vehicle … [it] wasn’t enough leadership for them.” Next week, she will most likely take over four-wheeler duties.
Skid, a miniature dachshund with no connection to the McElvains, ran for the first time Saturday. He saw his owner Meredith Barrett when he came out of the box, and never finished. “He’s a ranch dog, so he’s pretty athletic, despite his showing today,” Barrett says. Skid plans to race again this month. “Now that we know that these dogs know what they’re doing. … We have a little work to do in the meantime.”

Dachshunds, dachshund mixes and all other small dogs are invited to participate in the Chorizo Wiener Dog races.

HIPICO Santa Fe Summer Series: After 2 pm Saturdays through Aug. 11. Free. HIPICO Santa Fe, 100 S Polo Drive, 474-0999; hipicosantafe.com.