|Photo: Patrice Halley
Veteran horseman and chief of the Xeni Gwet'in, Roger William tells CG what racing wild horses means to him
Story by Jodi Di Menna
CG: How long have you been racing horses?
RW: I started racing horses for money in 1982, at age 16. These were mountain
races, which means we'd be running down the side of a mountain on horse back, going through
trails, rivers, beaver dams and so on. We'd also do quarter-mile races and Gymkhana events.
But I've raced for fun since I could ride horses. I believe I started riding horses on my
own when I was just six. But I've been either on the back of my mother or in a baby crib
being packed on a horse since I was born.
CG: What draws you to horse racing?
RW: Since I was young I've heard and seen Xeni Gwet'ins and Tsilhqot'ins
(this is name of our Nation and people) racing in quarter and half mile races, mountain races,
horse chasing and cattle chasing. When I was able to, I chased cattle, then horses and then
got into races.
CG: Are you ever afraid?
RW: Yes, I do get nervous and afraid, but that's what makes you good and
alert. My elders always say that you do your best, work hard, and if things don't work out
it's meant to be. In other words, if I train my horse well for a race and end up falling
off or the horse falls with me, then it's meant to be. The hard part is waiting for the race,
but once it starts I'm all for it and give it as much as I can. I trust my horse and push
my horse, but my horses are trained for it.
CG: Can you describe the feeling of riding a horse at such great speeds?
RW: Your adrenalin is very high. Things are very quick, so you go by your
reaction. You're going like a bat out of hell. I've run my horse at its top speed to see
how fast it goes while wearing my cowboy hat, but when I enter the mountain race, the speed
is a lot faster and your hat doesn't seem to stay on like when you're running your horse
on your own. For some reason the horse goes a lot faster in the mountain race than in a flat
race or racing on your own.
CG: What makes a good horse racer?
RW: I love what I do and I respect my horse and other mountain racers.
I believe in my elders and traditional beliefs. I know a good horse by riding it and I work
hard at what I get into.
CG: What makes a good race-horse?
RW: A horse that can run in any terrain — down hill, up hill, through
mud, along a trail, through snow and ice, when it's rocky — and is not scared to obey. The
horse needs to be controllable and will slow down and speed up when you need to. We always
say, and it's proven so, that the best horses are the wild horses, Cayuse, from out here
in Xeni and Tsilhqot'in, as their hoof is stronger and they are more sure footed. You may
be able to buy a horse from outside of Xeni or Tsilhqot'in, like a quarter horse or a thoroughbred,
and win a race or two but not consistently as they either get injured too much or fall with
CG: How often do you win?
RW: I've won at least half of the time I've entered a race. That's 37
mountain races over 20 years.
CG: What's your secret to success?
RW: My secret is my traditional prayer, ceremony and smudging as well
as attitude and hard work with my horse and respect for other mountain race horses and riders.
Plus 90 percent of my Championships and 1st Place Finishes are on Cayuse Wild Horses from
CG: Where do you usually race? Why?
RW: We usually race down the Nemiah Mountain, as it's the closest to the
Rodeo Grounds. Plus a lot of horse chasing happens on that trail and mountain. At the Rodeo
we like to have our horse chasers show off once a year by coming down the Nemiah Mountain
once on Saturday and once on Sunday. In our Court Case Area there is a place called Chunezch'et
(Potato Mountain) where all the Tsilhqot'in (Xeni Gwet'in is part of 6 Tsilhqot'in Communities)
used to gather and pick wild potato, hunt, pick medicines and so on. We used to have Gymkhana-like
events here, which included a mountain race.
CG: Why is horse racing important to your community?
RW: There used to be a big mountain race in Williams Lake back in the
60's. Horses were our transportation and we use them to haul hay, etcetera. Horse racing
is important to our community because ever since horses came into Xeni or Tsilhqot'in there
have been races of all kinds.