Meet Tyrell Mcgilvery, a 13-year-old Indian Relay Race rider topping rodeo circuit standings
Teen took 1st place at recent competitions, after being introduced to the sport earlier this summer
It's a rush like no other. The freedom of the wind in his hair, feeling the thunder of the hoofs meeting the earth as the duo of horse and rider rise in the air along each stretch of the lap of the race.
Moments before the horn is blown at the start of a race, Tyrell Mcgilvery says a surge of panic runs through his veins, but when the horse takes off he leaves the fear behind.
"I love it," said Mcgilvery. "The thrill of the ride. Blood's pumping and I like going fast!"
At 13, he is the youngest Indian Relay Race competitor in Canada. He was introduced to the sport earlier this summer while visiting family in Maskwacis, Alta.
Mcgilvery grew up riding horses at Goodfish Lake First Nation in northern Alberta. His uncle, Charles Meechance, said Mcgilvery is a natural talent.
"Tyrell is a very good rider," said Meechance. "A rider has to be light and someone who is fearless, and he is. He's the best rider I've seen so far, especially given that he's just 13."
The Indian Horse Relay is a traditional Indigenous race that is garnering widespread attention after a revival of the sport began a few years ago.
Taking in a race is like watching a scene out of a Wild West movie.
An element of excitement and danger attracts spectators as jockeys ride bareback, with no helmets, around a racetrack. Riders run three laps around the track while switching horses after each lap.
The first one to the finish takes the prize money — and Mcgilvery did just that at Piikani First Nation's Indian Days last weekend.
His team, called Treaty Six, also took first place at the World Indigenous Nations Games championship in Maskwacis, Alta., in July.
"He [Tyrell] really likes it [riding]," said Meechance.
"I'm really proud of him; I hope he keeps up. I hope more young kids get involved, too, instead of them getting into trouble. In our team, we don't allow any alcohol or drugs. Our goal is to be clean and safe."
Meechance, an old-timer cowboy from Red Pheasant First Nation in Saskatchewan, has won a few races himself. He rode quarter-horses as recently as a decade ago.
This is Meechance's first season traveling the Indian Relay circuit, but he said mainstream interest in the sport is growing.
His sister, Trisha Meechance, also races horses in Saskatchewan and is serving as the trainer for the horse team they use for the Indian Relays.
Thoroughbreds are the breed of choice for the Meechances, and the upkeep is often a 24-hour job.
"It takes a lot of work," said Trisha. "Long hours and a lot of help from the team [members] as a whole."
But the team is starting to be known as celebrities in the Indian rodeo circuit because of its star rider, Mcgilvery.
"People are amazed at how young he is, and he is amazing. I'm glad to have him on my team — without him, I'd be lost," said Trisha.
In between races, Mcgilvery is busy training and working on sharpening his horsemanship skills. He also grooms and exercises the horses to help maintain a bond and feel more comfortable, said Charles Meechance.
Mcgilvery is enjoying what's left of the season before he heads back to school in the fall.
"But I'll be doing this more and hopefully for my whole life," he said.
Team Treaty Six will be racing in Saddle Lake and Cold Lake on the weekend of Aug. 18-20 and is planning to enter the world finals event in Billings, Montana, in September.