October 16th, 2018

Horseback relay races go this weekend

By Mabell, Dave on June 14, 2018.

Dave Mabell

Lethbridge Herald


It’s being billed as the oldest competitive sport in North America.

First Nations horseback relay races date back more than 400 years, competitors say.

The tradition returns to Lethbridge this weekend, along with a Blackfoot powwow and dance competitions. Prize money of $18,000 will be on the line during the two-day meet, Saturday and Sunday at Exhibition Park.

The Blackfoot Canadian Cultural Society and the Rocky Mountain Turf Club are collaborating on the event, which will start with grand entry Saturday and Sunday at noon.

Relay races – three horses per team, three times around the track – will run both days along with the regular parimutuel race card.

The sport is regaining popularity, officials pointed out Wednesday, with official “Indian relay race” rules allowing three trackside assistants for each rider. The rider dismounts and climbs aboard the next steed each time around.

It’s not only the continent’s oldest competitive sport, suggested Max Gibb, chief executive officer of the turf club.

“I think it’s also the most challenging.”

As Canadians learn more about First Nations culture, while engaged in the Truth and Reconciliation process, Gibb said re-introducing some of the traditional competitions is a step in the right direction.

“I see the powwow and the Indian races as a great coming together.”

Travis Plaited Hair and Tony Delaney will share MC duties both days, while June Many Gray Horses will be the relay events co-ordinator.

Mary Ann Crow Healy, executive director of the Blackfoot cultural organization, said the race event is a new initiative for the Lethbridge-based group. It’s been presenting the city’s International Peace Powwow for the last 19 years, she noted.

While there’s an admission fee both days, seniors and children 10 and under will be admitted free.

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