On January 9th, 2017, the world lost an incredible man. His name was Ty Pozzobon. He was one of the best bull riders in the country, but with bull riding unfortunately comes lots of bumps, bruises and several concussions. Pozzobon was sadly no stranger to concussions and suffered a number of them, which pointed others to thinking he suffered from a Traumatic Brain Injury, which, it is believed, caused him to take his own life as a result of these concussions. Pozzobon’s brain was donated to a leading research facility in the United States, who have worked with Pozzobon’s family and close friends to discuss their findings. Since his passing, his friends and family created the Ty Pozzobon Foundation, a foundation to forever honour Pozzobon’s legacy with a mission statement of protecting and supporting the health and well-being of rodeo competitors inside and outside the arena.
A cowboy through and through
Born in Meritt, B.C., Ty’s passion for rodeos developed early as he started riding bulls when he was around 13 years old.
“My parents had a cattle ranch when we were younger and we used to team rope ever since I was old enough to remember,” said Ty’s younger sister Amy. “He just grew up absolutely obsessed with it since he was little. He would ride dad like a bull in the living room. It was just something that he always did.”
One of best memories Amy has of her brother dates back to one summer day where the two had to move cows from Ty’s place to their cousin’s house just down the road. Normally their dad was with them, but not this time. The siblings had their two horses and went to move them on their own.
“We actually did really well together, we were just very calm and we didn’t have the dogs, we just had the two of us,” recalled Amy.
They got them all in, loaded them up and proceeded to drive away, high-fiving in the truck, proud at what they had accomplished.
“Ty looks in the mirror of the truck and he’s like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ And I look back and one of the calves is on the highway!”
The animal ended up jumping over the edge of the highway into a swamp and thorn bushes.
“Ty just jumped right into the thorn bush after him and he took his shirt off to tie it around the calve’s neck like a rope – and these calves are pretty big – Ty’s wasn’t a very big guy, so they’re thrashing around in this thorn bush and Ty’s just scratched, he’s bleeding everywhere and up past his hips in this swamp trying to pass me this calf that probably weighs as much as me at this point.”
After all that work Ty ended up getting it back in the trailer and away they went.
“He was so proud of himself. I just remember we got back in the truck and he’s just smiling ear to ear.
“I think he always thought that people thought he was only a bull rider but he was a cowboy too. That’s one of my favourite memories of him.”
A passion for bull riding
In rodeo, the camaraderie formed is like no other. Long days on the road or in the plane, being there for one another for those bad falls and cheering for the wins. This was a lifestyle for Ty.
“This was his livelihood. He lived and breathed it. I couldn’t have imagined him having given it up,” said Amy about his love for the sport.
Through rodeo, Ty met many people, one of those people being Tanner Byrne. Byrne was one of his best friends. The two met on the rodeo circuit when they were just teens.
Now, Byrne looks back and remembers Ty’s smile, a smile that was infectious.
“He was always a happy guy, he was always in a great mood ready to have a good time. When we were flying to different events – we’d meet up in Denver or somewhere and you’d always see him coming around the corner and he had this big huge smile that would just light up the room,” he said.
Brett Gardiner, eight-time Canadian professional rodeo announcer of the year, who resides in Sylvan Lake, met Ty when he was a junior steer rider in Williams Lake, B.C.. That was the first time he ever announced his name.
“I remember one year I watched him win the steer riding and the bull riding in the same year and that’s when I first thought, Hey this kid is going to be somebody and he would of course go on to do incredible things and become a really good friend of mine and someone that I admired,” said Gardiner.
That relationship grew over time from seeing Ty go on to Professional Bull Riding (PBR) events throughout Canada and North America.
“Ty was just somebody who really loved life and he lived life to the fullest. He was very passionate, not only about being a bull rider, but he was passionate about the entire industry and being a cowboy and raising bulls,” said Gardiner.
A love like no other
It was April of 2012 when Ty met Jayd, and it didn’t take long for their relationship to take off. They started dating just a month later.
“It really was like we met and just started dating,” said Jayd.
Mutual friend Randy Q. was the first guy Ty met when he attended Odessa College in Texas.
It wasn’t long before Ty moved in with Jayd, staying with her between rodeos.
And one of the many things she remembers was his laugh.
“He had such a laugh from deep in his belly and he was rubbing his hands together and that was one of the first things I noticed about him, and I was like, I want to hear that every day for the rest of my life. He had just the most kind heart.”
The two married in October of 2015 and spent their time between Ty’s hometown of Merritt and her home base of Texas.
The fall that changed everything
With the sport of bull riding, of course, comes bumps and bruises. It’s inevitable and it’s something Ty experienced in his career. Concussions, too, are unfortunately part of the mix.
In 2014, he suffered from a particularly bad concussion after a big bull called Boot Strap Bill stomped on his helmet.
“It was a scary moment. I remember being there and announcing that ride and it was definitely something that I still remember,” recalled Gardiner.
Amy and her mom got a phone call that Ty had been knocked out and was rushed to the hospital for a CT scan.
“He was unconscious for a significant amount of time. After that, he wasn’t allowed to fly home right away, because you can’t go on an airplane and he had to sit in a dark room for two or three weeks,” said Amy.
It was after that fall when his family began to get worried.
Ty saw a neurologist and they ran some testing, recommending to him that he not ride bulls again.
“From what I remember my parents didn’t know the full outcome of that meeting,” said Amy.
But that didn’t stop the passionate bull rider. He continued on.
A change of mood
In the year leading up to Ty’s death, family and friends noticed changes in his behaviour.
“We were all worried about him. He was always very calm and level headed and didn’t like conflict but he was a bit more easily agitated in the year leading up (to his death),” said Amy.
“He was very worried about the future. He liked to have a plan and he was to the point where I think he was realizing that he wasn’t going to be able to ride bulls anymore or he wasn’t go to be able to ride bulls forever.”
Ty’s last bull ride was in 2016 and he ended up doing extremely well.
“He ended up 23rd in the world for that year. That’s where the Pozzy 23 comes from,” said Amy.
‘Pozzy 23’ is a saying that can be seen in the rodeo world today stitched onto jackets or hats to remember Ty.
Ty ended up making $100,000 at that event.
But even after that big win, Ty still wasn’t himself.
Jayd said she noticed a difference in his speech, he had short term memory problems, he was anxious about things and the couple began arguing quite a bit.
“I tried to get him to stop riding bulls. I thought that it had come to that point. I didn’t know if it would ever get better, I just didn’t want it to get worse,” she said.
Live Like Ty
After his death, Amy was with her parents to hear from the doctors who ran the tests on his brain. It was discovered that it was chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which isn’t caused from one specific event.
“It’s from repeated exposures to concussions and he started riding bulls when he was 13 or 14,” said Amy, adding that they lost count of how many concussions Ty had.
Family and friends gathered together to create the Ty Pozzobon Foundation to carry on Ty’s legacy while educating others on concussions among other things, which can be found at www.typozzobon.com.
“I’m so happy that the Ty Pozzobon Foundation was formed because I think it’s so important that his legacy carries on and I think it’s important that we learn from what Ty went through and we make a change based on that,” said Amy.
“I think it’s changed a lot,” said Byrne about the rodeo world now. “It really shook everyone, we lost the best guy that we had in the sport and it really opened everyone’s eyes to realizing that if it could happen to Ty, it could happen to any one of us.
“In the months following (his death) I’ve seen lots of guys say they wouldn’t take that re-ride or they weren’t going to ride the next day after being hit in the head. That was never even a thing in our sport, you rolled on and you felt okay and you kept going.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, that Ty saved many lives through what happened to him.”
The quote Live Like Ty also came about from his good friend Quatar.. that same man who introduced Ty and his wife.
And it’s something that might mean something different to those who knew him.
“To me the person that Ty was, the way that he treated people – it didn’t matter if he’d known you for 10 years or he just met you on a street corner – he could sit there and have a conversation with you and he was always trying to make people better and make the world a better place and make mankind a better race,” said Byrne.
He added that Live Like Ty means finding the good in people, finding the good in the situation, being positive, being happy and loving your friends and family.
Soon after his death t-shirts and hats were seen on many people in the community, something that was hard for Amy at first as it reminded her right away of her brother.
It now makes her smile.
“I see people wearing them and I have no idea who they are. I was at the gym and there was some random high school kid wearing one of the hats and it just made me smile.
“The whole point of it is to raise awareness for mental health and I think it’s doing a good job of that.”
Now, the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sports Medicine Team is at every PBR Canada event, making sure riders get tended to safely and properly, one of the goals of the Foundation.
“As regrettable as it is that we lost him, some incredible things have happened since his passing and the formation of the Ty Pozzobon Foundation has helped so many athletes inside and outside of the arena,” said Gardiner.
Jayd, too, thinks it’s amazing how far the sport has come in terms of the safety.
“I know personally several of Ty and I’s really good friends that rode bulls and still ride bulls in the PBR have stopped and taken a break and gone to a neurologist and gotten their brains checked out. One has even gone on medication and it’s a night and day difference,” said Jayd.
Jayd still barrel races from time to time, but has a hard time watching the bull riding.
“I don’t want this sport to die. Ty loved that sport more than anything. I have a hard time watching it now and I don’t really have a reason to watch it now so I’ve stayed away from it, but I still want it to grow and get better for his sake because I know if he were here that’s what he would want,” she said.
Jayd added that to her, Live Like Ty means to be selfless, non-judgemental and to help out when you can.
“He would give you the shirt off his back. He really was the best man I’ve ever met in my entire life. He raises all of our standards on living like him and nobody will ever be able to but we can keep trying.”