Jockey Niki Gashing Goodwin inducted into North American Indigenous Hall of Fame

Niki Gashing Goodwin was recently inducted into the North American Indigenous Athletics Hall of Fame after a successful career as a professional horse jockey.

Niki Goodwin.jpg
Niki Gashing Goodwin was recently inducted into the North American Indigenous Athletics Hall of Fame after a successful career as a horse jockey.

White Earth Nation member Niki Gashing Goodwin dreamed of professionally racing horses since he was a child.

After recently being inducted into the North American Indigenous Athletics Hall of Fame, Goodwin reminisced on the journey that got him to where he is today.

This year's class of inductees features more than 75 new athletes, coaches and teams to receive the honor for their athletic achievements and contributions to their respective sports.

“By honoring and celebrating the empowered journey of the annually inducted individuals and teams, the hope is their stories may inspire future generations to follow their dreams in athletics and life,” the NAIAHF website reads.

The NAIAHF was founded a year ago by longtime basketball coach and Bemidji Middle School physical education teacher Dan Ninham and his wife, Susan.


The dream of creating an Indigenous athletics hall of fame started when Ninham’s great-grandfather, Martin Wheelock, Oneida, was inducted into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, where he played and was the captain of the Carlisle Indian School football team in 1899.

But to Ninham’s knowledge, there wasn’t a hall of fame for Indigenous athletes of North America where they have left indelible marks at all levels of competition across countless sports. This new hall of fame is just one more way to give these Indigenous athletes recognition.

Goodwin is just one example of why Ninham started this hall of fame in the first place — to support and share the education of all Indigenous athletes that compete at an elite level.

Anything it takes

Goodwin realized his dreams of riding as a professional horse jockey were within reach at a young age — and he was going to do whatever it took to get there.

Born in Bagley, he grew up traveling from race track to race track with his father, Duane Goodwin, and fell in love with horses when he was a child. Due to his “smaller stature” and family connection in the industry, he knew he wanted to try to pursue a jockey career.

Niki Goodwin riding.jpg
Niki Goodwin is an all-time leading quarter horse rider at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn.

“Early on in my childhood, we had riding horses growing up, I guess (racing) is in my blood. My family gave me the desire to pursue this career and they are very supportive of my choice,” Goodwin said. “My mom would take me to the racetrack to see my father when I was little and being of a smaller stature and racing back around all the tracks around Minnesota gave me the drive to pursue it as a career.”

According to Goodwin, his family has been a huge part of his success and has always supported him through the many highs and lows of his career.

In 1991, he recorded his first victory in the 100th running of the Carlton County Derby and at just 16 years old, he went on to compete in his first professional race in Winnipeg, Manitoba. By his senior year of high school, his riding career was underway when he won his first professional race on his father's horse, Moidore.


However, the decision to keep chasing after his dream wasn’t always that easy. Goodwin put in a lot of time and hard work over the years, but he was faced with a huge decision right after he graduated high school.

Besides racing horses, he was also very passionate about his education. Even as a professional racer by the time he was a senior in high school, Goodwin still graduated with honors and received a full-ride academic scholarship to Bemidji State University — but he was confident he could make it in the racing industry and put his love for education on hold.

“I won my first race in 1991. I was still younger, but it gave me the drive to pursue a career in racing. I started riding professionally in 1993 at age 17, but I still had a year left of high school,” he said. “When I graduated, I had to make a choice whether I wanted to ride or continue with my academic education.”

Goodwin received the opportunity to ride at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California, one of the top premiere racing tracks in the country. As he spent time there, he continued to learn more about the industry from other riders and hall-of-fame jockeys — and that was just the beginning.

In 1995, he moved to Maryland and became a top rider for many years, despite the highly competitive mid-Atlantic racing circuit. In his career that has expanded over three decades, he’s recorded over 1,000 thoroughbred wins and a whole lot of quarter horse leading rider titles, including the all-time leading quarter horse rider at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn.

Jockey Niki Goodwin Career Victory 1000.jpg
Jockey Niki Goodwin notched his 1,000th career victory on June 22, 2017, at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn.

“I had a lot of hard years, put in a lot of hard work and had support from my family and other horse people along the way,” he added.

'Years of hard work'

As Goodwin reaches the end of his racing days, he still dedicates his life to horses. Spending the cold Minnesota winters in Florida, he helps train young racehorses for their careers. He even helped train Kentucky Derby champion, Nyquist, along with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and many more.

“Currently, I breed our young horses early to go to the races and train them until they’re ready to go to the next level,” Goodwin said.


When he’s not training the next generation of champion racehorses, Goodwin dedicates the rest of his time to his family. Living in Ocala, Florida, with his wife and three young boys — and they’re already learning the ropes and starting to ride.

“My wife also rides, too. She’s another huge support,” he said. “We actually met each other through the horse industry.”
Goodwin celebrated his induction into the North American Indigenous Hall of Fame with his family and coworkers. After years of dedication to chasing his childhood dream, he’s grateful to have this recognition as he looks back on his great career in racing.

“It's a great accomplishment to be able to be a part of this,” he left off. “The people I work for down here threw me a little party and it just feels really nice to get that recognition, especially after years of hard work, many broken bones and determination.”

Maggi is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on outdoor and human interest stories. Raised in Aitkin, Minnesota, Maggi is a graduate of Bemidji State University's class of 2022 with a degree in Mass Communication.
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