“I’ve owned horses all my life. Horses changed my path in life. My home life was difficult. My family had issues. I became addicted to horses and riding.” Tyrone is a direct descendent of Lethbridge folk-hero Jerry Potts. Tyrone acknowledges, “Horses are a big part of our lives as Blackfoot people.”
Sometimes, I marvel at how small a word it really is. Having never met before, in our conversation about the rodeo program, I learned that my father, who was also a Mountie, has met and presented Tyrone Potts with his RCMP long service medal. We talked about his time in Ottawa riding with the Musical Ride for two years and how rodeo can save lives.
For the last six years or so, Tyrone has been involved with the Piikani Youth Riding Program. From June through August people from two-years of age to 30-year-old gather to share a passion for horses and rodeo. The program is enjoyed by 40-60 kids each week in Brocket without funding. I visited the program in June and saw first-hand how moving it is to see children so engaged with horses and rodeo. Children finding their own strength and self-confidence as riders of powerful animals. “We match horses with riders’ ability and we do some steer riding too. It’s amazing what horses to for kids.”
The program is promoted through posters in the community but mostly word-of-mouth. “It’s for Native and non-Native kids.” Tyrone says, “Our kids go to school together. They play hockey together. We want all kids to take part. It’s for everyone.”
Each session begins with a 20-minute talking circle. People are free to talk about challenging issues like peer pressure, opioid addiction and suicide prevention but at the end of the day it’s about horsemanship and community. Emotional and physical safety is paramount. “We haven’t had an incident. There is no bucking. Those horses wouldn’t be right for the program. The horses are good.” says Tyrone.
Piikani rodeo has a deep history and an active record of success stories. Potts rode his first bull at the age of 14 and won second place in bull-riding the following year. In 1900 he was runner-up for World Indian Rodeo in Las Vegas where he now serves as a competition judge. Pincher Creek is home to famed pro-rodeo champion Otys Potts, also known as Otys Little Moustache. Bronc and bull-riding and barrell racing champ, Jarrett Monroe, also has ties to the Piikani rodeo program.
The Piikani Youth Rodeo has partnered with Piikani Child Family Services, Piikani Health Services and are always looking for new partners. Tyrone offers over 22 his own animals, horses and tack to Piikani youth rodeo. “People are welcome to help. Anyone who wants to be a part of the program can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.” Tyrone knows “If the program can save one life, it’s a success.”