'Oldest extreme sport in North America': Indigenous horse-racing comes to Alberta
Alberta’s Enoch Cree Nation is about to host a tournament for an Indigenous sport that has been described as “extreme” and “intense.” It is also incredibly dangerous.
Officially called “Indian Relay Racing,” the races see competitors complete three laps on a course while riding a horse bareback. If that wasn’t challenging enough, competitors must also change horses after each lap with the help of their teammates. The riders can reach speeds of roughly 45 kilometres per hour, and in addition to not having saddles, they also don’t wear helmets.
“It’s the oldest extreme sport in North America,” Kyle Peacock told CTV Edmonton from the Enoch Cree Nation. “It's not easy.”
On Sept. 1 and 2, the Enoch Cree Nation, which is located just west of Edmonton, will be hosting the Canadian Indian Relay Association’s 2018 championships.
While the organized sport, which started in the U.S., is relatively new here, its roots can be traced back to ancient times.
“The first time I saw it live… it was a heart-filling thing,” Levi Morin, who captains one of the teams competing this weekend, said. “It was like seeing history, you know, like my ancestors used to do it and it used to be with hunting, war, whatever have you. So it really hit me.”
And despite “a lot of danger,” competing, Morin adds, fills him with a sense of pride.
“We’re known as ‘The Horse People’ here in Enoch,” he explained. “And we’re proud to have our team out.”
Riders and horses alike are also often bedecked with bright colours and war paint.
“The paint goes back to our ancestors,” Peacock explained. “We used to paint our war horses before we went into battle.”
Fifteen-year-old rider Jay Peeaychew sees it all as bringing those battles into the 21st century.
“This is pretty much war for us, racing against other teams,” he said.
For his part, Peeaychew only recently began riding.
“It was hard on the legs, squeezing, because I didn’t know what to do at first and just held on for my life,” he recalled. “It’s pretty scary.”
“It’s an intense thing to be on top of that horse and then to be going that fast, you know,” fellow rider Dakota Rabbit said.
The hazards are many and when something goes wrong, it usually happens in the transition area where riders change horses.
“The catcher is supposed to catch them, but if he gets run over then--” Peeaychew said, trailing off with a shrug. “Kind of not my fault.”
“It’s intense,” Peacock added. “A 1,200-pound piece of muscle can do a lot of damage to a 200-pound man.”
Despite the dangers, the competitors relish being able to celebrate their history through sport.
“(It) makes me feel good that I’m racing with my culture,” Peeaychew said.
“I think the unity is the most important part of this sport right now,” Morin added. “To be together and compete with our four-legged friends.”
With a report from CTV Edmonton’s Adam Cook