‘It’s the most extreme sport in Canada’: Indian Horse Relay closes Manito Ahbee Festival

According to organizers and riders Indian Horse Relay racing is a spectacle like no other.

“It’s the most extreme sport in Canada,” says Vern “Stick” Antoine, president of the Elite Indian Relay Association.

A team consists of a rider dressed in traditional Indigenous regalia and three painted thoroughbreds. After each lap, the rider jumps off one horse and onto the next.

It’s an old sport, but it has been surging in popularity in Canada over the past few years. This is only its second year at the Manito Ahbee Festival, but the Elite Indian Relay Association travels across all four western provinces, performing at festivals and exhibitions.

“The crowd is so big, and it just makes you even more nervous,” says 14-year-old Lakeisha Ross.

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Ross has been racing in the Lady Warrior category for three years. At some events, there are kids as young as six who race.

“You have a really big rush,” says Ross. “At the start, you get this feeling of adrenaline.”

Lisa Meeches, the festival’s executive director, adds that this event is more than an incredible physical feat. She says the riders often share a deep bond with the horses.

“We’ve relied on the spirit of the horse to heal us as Indian people,” says Meeches. “And as Indian people, we understand how important that is.”

She says an event showcasing the sacred animal is the perfect way of wrapping up the Manito Ahbee Festival. It’s a celebration, and a chance to bring together people of all nations.

“We talk about reconciliation, but nobody even knows what that looks like. But here it is. It’s here at Manito Ahbee festival,” says Meeches.

Click to play video: 'Miss Manito Ahbee sharing pride, culture at 18th annual Manito Ahbee Festival'

Miss Manito Ahbee sharing pride, culture at 18th annual Manito Ahbee Festival

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