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Steven Wolftail travelled to Walla Walla, Wash., last year to compete in the Champions of Champions Indian Relay Racing.
Steven Wolftail travelled to Walla Walla, Wash., last year to compete in the Champions of Champions Indian Relay Racing.

by Livia Manywounds

Competitors race bareback on thoroughbreds, with riders jumping from one horse to another

In its third season, the Canadian Indian Relay Racing Association is set to call the Calgary area home for its 2019 championship finals in the fall.

The association, which started in 2017, put a call out on social media for a venue to host the finals. Century Downs was the top bidder.

The championships are expected to have a prize purse of over $58,000 with more sponsors expected to jump on board.

Indian Relay is a sport that involves racing bareback on thoroughbred horses, with the rider jumping from one horse to another after each lap for three rounds.

Three horses and four people — a mugger, rider and two holders — make up a team.

The sport in Canada

In its inaugural season, the Canadian association had 16 teams, which grew to 28 teams the following year. Now, it's expected to grow even bigger in 2019, with talks about a U.S. association wanting to partner up.

Kainai Nation member Dexter Bruised Head is the president of the Canadian Indian Relay Racing Association.

"There is a huge cultural component to Indian relay racing," says Bruised Head. "So they [Century Downs] are going to allow us to fully express Indian relay, on how we started it and how we see it."

Wyonah Snow-Wolftail is the mother of racer Steven Wolftail and sits on the Canadian Indian Relay Racing Association's executive committee. (photo: Livia Manywounds/CBC)
Wyonah Snow-Wolftail is the mother of racer Steven Wolftail and sits on the Canadian Indian Relay Racing Association's executive committee. (photo: Livia Manywounds/CBC)

Prior to the Canadian association being formed, each year a selected Canadian Indian relay team was sent to compete in the U.S. championships, which have been running for over 80 years, according to Bruised Head.

"We were trying to get more involvement from other nations and teams, so forming the association was one way to achieve that," he said.

Bruised Head said the championships will be a world class event.

"We are so happy to be here at Century Downs and have them host this Canadian championship."

Growth continuing

The sport has grown over the past few years in Canada, including being demonstrated at the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth: the Calgary Stampede.

"The impact is felt from First Nations and non-First Nations, there are so many things you can get out of a race.… That warrior that's inside of everybody, it comes to life," said the Kainai member.

Twenty-one year-old racer Steven Wolftail — competing since he was 17 — is from the Stoney Nakoda and Piikani Nation.

Wolftail said he got his first opportunity to race in Brocket, Alta., winning third overall.

He follows in his father's footsteps as a rider and is part of the Sioux-Foot Indian relay racing team.

"I can see myself going down the road with this and looking for future riders. Maybe one day someone would want to take my place," said Wolftail.

"I like the partnership agreement for the championship finals to be hosted here [Calgary]. It will draw a crowd and it would be a good event."

Wolftail started the Sioux-Foot Indian relay racing team and looks forward to making it to the finals.

"It is a great track out there, a lot of room, and I like it a lot," said Wolftail.

The relay racer gives thanks to the organizers for starting the association.

"This wouldn't be possible without them."

'Back to the heritage of the province'

Paul Ryneveld is the managing director for Century Downs Racetrack and Casino, which is located on the northern outskirts of Calgary.

"We think this is the start of something that can be a very big event in the Calgary market," Ryneveld said. "We know that for us here, it is a very significant event and one we hope to grow and hope to be apart of the growth for the Indian relay."

Paul Ryneveld says Century Downs wants to be part of the growth of Indian relay as a spectator sport. (photo: Livia Manywounds/CBC)
Paul Ryneveld says Century Downs wants to be part of the growth of Indian relay as a spectator sport. (photo: Livia Manywounds/CBC)

The director said preparations are well underway for the racetrack's other events and is expecting to be top notch for the Indian relay finals.

"As the organization grows, we can see this event grow as well, and it's one of those events … that gets us back to the heritage of the province."

Ryneveld said he's excited about the partnership and to see it at Century Downs.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women dedication

Stoney Nakoda Chiniki band member Wyonah Snow-Wolftail is an executive member and membership co-ordinator of the association.

The Stoney Nakoda member pushed forward the motion of dedicating the 2019 Canadian Indian relay racing season to missing and murdered Indigenous women.

"It's becoming a big issue and people should be aware of it," said Snow-Wolftail.

Snow-Wolftail said the issues of MMIW hits close to home through people she knows who have gone missing.

"If I was put in that position, if one of my loved ones had gone missing ... I can't imagine how I would feel," said Snow-Wolftail.

The Canadian Indian Relay Racing Championships are set for Aug. 31 to Sept. 1.


About the Author

Livia Manywounds is a reporter with the CBC in Calgary, a rodeo competitor and a proud member of the Tsuut’ina First Nation.
Livia Manywounds is a reporter with the CBC in Calgary, a rodeo competitor and a proud member of the Tsuut’ina First Nation.

This article originally appeared on CBC.ca and is published here with permission. Find other interesting stories in our section on Horse Racing.

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