COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the entire world, and the rodeo industry isn’t exempt. From contestants to contractors to committees, they’ve all been forced to […]
On The Trail with Piper Yule
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
Piper is currently mastering four ponies, and has been working on that for a year. She began her career as a trick rider at the age of four. She added Roman Riding a year later, hopping on her brother’s ponies one day in the arena. “My brother was driving a wagon and I wanted to be part of that, so I just jumped on.” She relies on her brother, Cash, for the ponies. Cash doesn’t mind anymore because the ponies aren’t fast enough for him to use on the chuck wagon. Chuck wagon racing is a Canadian thing, and he started with ponies, and is now moving to Shetlands. Along with the rodeo events, both Piper and Cash do a lot of work on the ranch, which has been in the family for five generations. The family lives in Wardlow, Alberta, a small ranching community, three hours from the border in the middle of nowhere. Between Brooks and Hanna, the community is known for the Calgary Stampede rodeo horses that make their home there as well. Most of their family lives around the area.
Piper is a gymnast, nicknamed Pipes because she is so strong and has the ability to do things that kids her size can’t do. Her gymnastics teacher, Petre Neda, is an Olympian champion. He immigrated from Austria and coached the Olympian gold Korean team. She started at age 2 and at this time in her life, her groundwork in gymnastics is more difficult that the strap work of trick riding. “That’s what has set her apart,” explains her mom, Kelsey. “She can do difficult maneuvers like the bar work in gymnastics. Her snappy groundwork is her signature. The maneuver she likes the least is anywhere that the ponies can potentially bite her. “Since she rides naughty ponies, she has a hard time trusting her horse so she would prefer to vault.” Her work ethic in gymnastics included 20 hours of training a week. “Her coach was very strict – back hand springs, back walkovers, putting her feet in bars against the wall and lifting up; multiple chin ups and climbing a rope up a wall were other “warm up activities” he required of Pipes. “Piper respects her coach because he can do anything she is doing and when she doesn’t want to try, he shows her.”
Pipes received her first formal training in trick riding from Rae-Lynn Armstrong, who was Madison MacDonald Thomas’s partner in Magic in Motion. “I met her through that,” explained Madison, who has been working with her for four years now. “She’s determined with a lot of try and a lot of heart. She’s very fun to teach – you can throw anything at her and she’ll try it. For someone as young as she is and the pressure of the shows we put her under, it’s incredible what she can do and handle.” Madison, who has been trick riding for 20 years, teaches trick riding from coast to coast. “The number of trick riders is growing,” she said. “The ‘trick’ is learning how to use your body, and Pipes is a natural – I love that little girl – she’s a fun one.”
The trick riding and Roman Riding has come easily to Pipes, who practices Roman Riding often while the family is moving cows. This is the first year that she has had to work on the mental part. She’s never been nervous before. In Roman Riding there is no room for error. In order to “button up mentally,” Pipes has implemented a song into her preparation time. Fairland Ferguson used to performa in the show Cavallia, so Pipes sings the song: ‘Strong in the legs, quiet in the hand, chest and eyes up and go sell eggs.’ It’s an inside joke – she repeats the song until she is calm and focused.
Piper leaves with Madison July 2, and she will go all the way to the end of August. Kelsey will travel along. “Maddie is contracted with Flying U, Mr. Rosser has given me my first chance to see if I’m good enough to be with her,” said Pipes. Her first show is Nephi, Utah, July 11-13. This is her first full summer on the road and she is excited. She came down to the states from the end of January until the middle of March for The AMERICAN and performed during the Junior American. “My teacher sent me homework. Miss Gray has been her teacher since kindergarten and now in third grade, she will work ahead to get done before she leaves. Half of her class is gone for the winter.
“It gets pretty cold up here, so many of them go to Arizona,” explains Kelsey. “We do everything in -40 degree weather and it will be like that for a long time.”
There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into the few minutes in the arena. “The production behind it takes a whole team,” said Kelsey. “It takes two hours just to get in the arena.” For Pipes, she would rather skip that part.
“I don’t like to brush my hair,” she admits. “I just want my hair in braids.” She is not taking after her mom – who has a chain of beauty schools in Canada.
“I grew up out here and I wanted to braid my ponies hair instead of barrel racing,” said Kelsey. “I worked internationally for Revlon for several years as Canada’s creative director. So I got to go to Barcelona and Paris, designing shows. I loved this side of the business, so I started schools. I have a great team – we’ve had the same team my whole career and we’re committed to each other. You can’t be strong without that.” Her ability to produce a style show has helped with the specialty act scripts. “We can do the photography, the make-up and all the art that goes behind it.”
Her husband, Wes, spends his days doing ranch work, and is supportive of his children’s interests. “It takes a lot of time, but it’s good.” After a full day of looking after cows, haying, or whatever is necessary, he practices with the kids, rope a little with Cash. As a former bronc rider in Canada, he knows what it takes to get trucks and trailers ready to go. His bronc riding skills have come in handy as Cash breaks his ponies. “The ponies are too small for me to get on, but I can coach him.” He stays behind when the family hits the rodeo road. “I got the easy job – I fly down to watch and then fly home.”
…A Little more about:
Cash started working with ponies when he was six – he is 11 now. His secret is to spend lots of time with them. “Don’t give up and don’t let them win or they will keep doing that over and over again,” he said. “When I was little, I liked to play around with them. When I got older I started doing other stuff with them. I try to pick the better ones that aren’t naughty.” His cousin dropped off a trailer load when Cash was younger and he sorted through and picked the ones he thought he could break. “The other ones that I couldn’t break, I would buck them.” He puts them on a wagon and drives them until they are tired. He tarps them and ponies them on to something and Piper is often the rider.
Cash is in sixth grade and attends a school where there are 75 kids in school from k-12. His favorite part is social studies and math. He plans to play defense in the NFL one day as well as become a veterinarian. Along with racing ponies, Cash team ropes.
Last year, Kynan Vine, rodeo director of Calgary Stampede, hired Cash for the Presidents Day – a private performance done before the Calgary Stampede to recognize the sponsors. Last year it was geared towards kids and they had the opportunity to produce their first rodeo. They had to find all the other kids to help, they did events like ranch roping, mini broncs, barrel racing. He pushed the kids – they learned how to take the entire production seriously. He has become a huge mentor – they work hard for him and the rewards. Cash just sold 25 ponies – ponies that he raised. He has quite the business going on.