William LaVanway: Galloping Through Life

By Jackie Humber

Amongst the tumbleweeds and sagebrush of the Arizona desert, young William LaVanway chased wild horses and mustangs. It was his way of life.

William LaVanway is 100 percent Navaho and proud of it. He is the only galloper that has a feather in his galloping hat.” The feather is for the Navaho people. We don’t have crosses. We have guardians and my guardian is the eagle. My feather is supposed to be an eagle feather. So that’s my guardian,” said LaVanway.

He is the son of a Navaho mother. His father, who has passed away, was a doctor who later became an airplane mechanic and pilot. He owned and managed an airport.

LaVanway’s passion for horses and knowledge of teamwork was introduced to him at a very young age while growing up in Arizona.

“We would catch the baby horses and break them together. Then we would sell them as our source of income. It didn’t seem like work,” said LaVanway.

In the spring of 1990, Lavanway’s second passion led him to British Columbia. Tae Kwon Do was being introduced as an Olympic sport. LaVanway’s team was trying out for the Olympics. “Our team made the Olympics but because Tae Kwon Do was founded by the Koreans and they chose to send girls, that left us out,” explained LaVanway.

LaVanway has extensive knowledge in Martial Arts. While enjoying the mountains, greenery and waters of BC, LaVanway decided not to return to the dust and dirt of Arizona. He was fortunate to meet and be taken in by Hastings Park trainer Pat Jarvis, Albert Jarvis and the Jarvis family.

“They are very good people. Pat taught me a lot and Albert taught me too,” said LaVanway.

LaVanway spent the next few years working along side of Pat at the family farm. One summer afternoon LaVanway went with Pat to race a couple of horses at Hastings track.

“I thought this is fun. There’s nothing like British Columbia. You can do anything you want and enjoy life,” said LaVanway.

He was already a seasoned galloper when he decided to go to Kwantlen College and learn to be a farrier.

Love at first sight
Life was going great for LaVanway. He was shoeing horses, galloping and living his passion. Then the day came that changed his life forever: as he galloped one day, he looked over, and something interesting caught his eye. “There was this beautiful girl washing feed buckets. She had grain all over her hair. It was a picture perfect sight,” reminisced LaVanway. “She looked up and blushed and I said there’s the girl I’ll marry.”

The girl’s name was Elizabeth and although she left Hastings Park for a couple of years LaVanway held her memory close.When Elizabeth returned, LaVanway wasted no time and began to date her. Soon after the two became a team and married on Valentine’s Day.

Since then, LaVanway and his wife have started a family with the addition of a girl named Anastasia. They also opened a training centre in Langley, and William has obtained his trainers’ license at Hastings Track.

His main teammate is Elizabeth who works side by side with him all year long. “In the winter I break babies with Elizabeth and then in summer we still break babies and train together. We are a team. That’s what makes it work,” said LaVanway.

LaVanway’s biggest fan at the racetrack is Hall of Fame trainer George Cummins. “I can go to him when we have problems and when we have good times. George Cummins is a wonderful person. If you could learn just a little of the things he’s forgotten, you’d be a genius,” said LaVanway, who considers Cummins to be his elder. In Navaho tradition, this is the highest honour.

Each morning LaVanway and his wife Elizabeth can be seen galloping along Hastings track before the birds wake and before the sun rises. LaVanway often looks to the trees to see if his old friends have returned. “Usually two eagles sit in the tree next to the quarter pole, but this year I only saw one. That made me sad because of all the eagles that were killed,” said LaVanway.

This year LaVanway hopes to have more successes at the racetrack. “Every year I hope we have more winners and if anything I hope we can have a happy year so we can enjoy ourselves. I’ve had a lot of help from everybody. Everyday I learn and I just enjoy life. It’s not very often you can live your passion,” said LaVanway.