British Columbia

Cowboy attitudes take a turn after death of B.C. bull rider

The Ty Pozzobon Foundation in partnership with the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sports Medicine Team has introduced a series of educational videos for rodeo competitors. The first one focuses on concussion awareness.

More rodeo riders are wearing helmets since Ty Pozzobon's death

Some say Ty Pozzobon's death sparked the community to take concussions and brain health more seriously. (CBC/Jenifer Norwell)

It's been more than a year since B.C. bull rider Ty Pozzobon killed himself at the age of 25.

He had suffered many concussions in his career and had brain damage as a result. Signs of chronic encephalopathy (CTE) were later found in his brain. 

Now, the foundation in his name, along with the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sports Medicine Team, are releasing a series of educational videos for rodeo competitors to promote health and well-being in the profession. The first video is on concussion awareness.

Pozzobon's death sparked a conversation that many in the industry had never had around brain health and safety.

Lane Goertzen says his heart sank when he heard the news of Ty Pozzobon's death. (CBC/ Jenifer Norwell)

Lane Goertzen, a bull rider who has always worn a helmet, says getting hurt is just part of the sport, but attitudes are slowly starting to shift.

"Pride's not as big of a part of it anymore," he said. 

Ryan St. Pierre says he looked up to Pozzobon and his death shocked the whole riding community. (CBC/ Jenifer Norwell )

Ryan St. Pierre is in his fourth year bull riding. He wears a helmet and says his colleagues are beginning to take the issue more seriously.

"I think guys are more cautious of what they're doing, like if they hit their heads they're taking the time off or they're wearing their helmets," said St. Pierre.

"No point in being that whole rough and tough cowboy anymore … like yeah, it's good to be a tough and strong cowboy, but you also gotta be smart … can't just walk around brain dead for the rest of your life."

But that "rough and tough cowboy" attitude is hard to break.

Mike Nelson is a pickup man with the rodeo who is also from Merritt, Pozzobon's hometown. Nelson's job is all about keeping riders safe; essentially catching them when they fall. 

"Concussions are a huge part of the rodeo industry especially in bull riding," Nelson said

"Cowboys always have the mentality that you've just got to tough it out. You know we don't get paid if we're not competing … you just grit your teeth and keep going."

Mike Nelson says that since Ty’s death, people are talking about brain health a lot more and slowing beginning to realize the severity of the issue. (CBC/ Jenifer Norwell)

But he agrees that attitudes are gradually changing.

"Hopefully, there's some good that's going to come out of it [Pozzobon's death]," Nelson said.

But while many are taking the cues, there are still some riders stuck in their ways.

Brady Smith grew up around the rodeo and while he agrees with concussion protocol and changing attitudes, he chooses not to wear a helmet while riding. (CBC/Jenifer Norwell)

Brady Smith grew up around the rodeo and has been bull riding since 2014. Although he knows the risk, he chooses not to wear a helmet.

"A guy definitely thinks about it … I'm probably too stubborn or something," he said.

Overall, there is an attitude shift at the rodeo.

Tim Carlson says that after Pozzobon's death, many lost their passion for the sport and questioned their careers. (CBC/Jenifer Norwell)

Tim Carlson, a bullfighter with the rodeo who helps protect the cowboys, says that Pozzobon's death was the spark that the profession needed, and when people finally started to realize that proper sports medicine was necessary.

"I think he [Pozzobon] would really enjoy that his life has provided so much for the sport that he loved and made a living at."

Listen to the piece with all of the above voices:

With files from Daybreak Kamloops and Jenifer Norwell

​Read more from CBC British Columbia 

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