Tom Reeves, riding strong on the circuit, is putting on a free clinic this week for youth to learn skills for the arena – and for life. (Submitted photo)

ONTARIO – When Tom Reeves retired from the professional rodeo circuit in 2005 and returned home to South Dakota, he realized he needed to get involved to curb what he saw as a growing atmosphere of youth apathy, suicides and drug addiction.

A lot had changed at the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota since Reeves departed on one of the most spectacular rodeo careers ever.

The accolades and awards Reeves collected over the span of his 22-year career are impressive. He was a two-time high school rodeo champion. As a pro rodeo saddle bronc rider, Reeves was a 1993 National Finals Rodeo champion, won the 2001 saddle bronc world championship, then was named as the captain of the 2002 U.S. Olympic rodeo team. He claimed top wins in nearly every major rodeo in the PRCA and, in 2009, was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.

Back on the reservation, though, Reeves felt he couldn’t stand by and watch more young people die of drug overdoses and suicide. He created the Wild Horses, Building Champions Youth Program. The program uses rodeo to empower youth and to teach fundamental life skills “like never giving up, having a work ethic,” said Reeves.

Reeves, who also coached rodeo in Texas, now travels the country giving free rodeo clinics to help youth. This Wednesday, July 24, Reeves will sponsor a free rodeo school at the Malheur County Fairgrounds from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The clinic is open to youth and adults, said Reeves. Participants do not have to have a background in ranching or rodeo to attend the clinic, Reeves said. Reeves provides the equipment and stock at the clinic. At the clinic, Reeves presents an introduction to the western lifestyle that includes riding horses, roping, working out on bucking machines and bronc riding.

On Thursday Reeves will also spearhead a rodeo that begins at 7 p.m. at the fairgrounds. Cost to see the rodeo is a $10 donation. The adult rodeo is a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association-sanctioned event.

The clinic and the rodeo are both great opportunities for local youth, said Drew Pearson, Treasure Valley Community College rodeo team coach.

“He is creating a great deal for young people,” said Pearson.

Pearson said some of his rodeo team members have studied under Reeves and it pays off during competition.

“It changes my bronc riders, my rough stock kids. Every kid should know his name,” said Pearson.

Reeves said his coaching technique is about empowerment.

“I don’t talk much about what they are doing wrong. I talk about what they should be doing right,” said Reeves.

Teaching youth about the “western lifestyle” is a central pillar to the Wild Horses, Building Champions Youth Program, said Reeves.

“If you rodeo for a living, you have to live your life a certain way. I trained, I worked out,” said Reeves.

Saddle bronc riding – Reeves’s specialty – can help youth in life, he said. Saddle bronc riding isn’t just about jumping on a horse and trying not to get bucked off, he said.

“It is a technique to learn. Saddle bronc riding is not about power. It is technique and timing and moving the right way. You have to think your way through it,” said Reeves.

Reeves said he doesn’t believe in “raw talent.” Instead, he said, champions are built through hard work, careful preparation and determination. Those attributes can also be translated into life, he said, and give youth a solid foundation to find success.

The Wild Horses, Building Champions Youth Program isn’t a flash in the pan, said Reeves’ wife, Casey.

“This isn’t a side hustle. It is something he wants to keep doing. He founded the program using rodeo as a vehicle to spark interest, to give kids something to do, to teach kids to sustain themselves in a rodeo background,” said Casey Reeves.

The program, said Casey Reeves, furnishes “guidance and mentorship.”

“He can take a kid and work with them once and they can go straight to winning,” said Casey Reeves.

A Lakota Sioux Indian, Reeves knows more than most about overcoming adversity. He collected rodeo wins for most of his career without a sponsor and traveled to rodeos across the nation while living out of a van.

He also faced criticism and discrimination because he is an American Indian. His resolve, said his wife, was the key feature of his success.

“He had a tremendous worth ethic,” said Casey.

Reeves said he believes his program is a success.

“The western lifestyle is important to the youth of America,” said Reeves.

For more information on the free clinic and rodeo or about the Wild Horses, Building Champions Youth Program, contact Casey Reeves at 918-964-9551.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-47-3377.

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