Lakota Youth Receive New Boots for Horsemanship Program

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe was awarded a three-year Department of Justice grant to establish a Youth Horsemanship Project. The grant provides free horse-care instruction to area youth, but organizers found they were unable to spend any of the funds on gear for individual youth participants. This has caused a problem for the aspiring horsemen.

“We found a lot of the parents don’t have the means to purchase boots and good riding boots are very expensive,” said Juanita McLane, Youth Horsemanship Assistant. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to use any of the grant money for personal wear.”

Sturdy boots are essential when working with horses. “The footwear is more a safety issue, so their feet won’t slip through the stirrup,” said Dennis Rousseau, Director of Game, Fish and Parks, which administers the grant. Additionally, boots help to protect your feet if stepped on by a thousand pound horse.

“We’ve been making due,” McLane said. “A lot of the kids have been sharing with those without boots. We’ll have four kids riding and when they switch off – they switch boots too.”

So the Horsemanship Project applied for and was awarded a $1,000 Tribal Ventures Cultural Mini-Grant to purchase boots for the children enrolled in the program. Mini-Grants are intended to fund youth and family oriented projects which promote a positive Lakota self-image by providing educational and cultural enrichment intended for area youth and families.

“We were very excited to help these young people buy boots,” said Eileen Briggs, Tribal Ventures Director.

Speaking of the new boots, McLane says, “I think it will give them more confidence to get closer to the horses.”

The grant allowed Sakaiya Martin, age 11, to buy her first new pair of boots. “I love them,” she said, holding the box close.

Participants in the horsemanship program attend twice a week for six months. One participant, 12-year-old Sapphire Lucero, has been interested in riding for years but has never had the opportunity. Sapphire’s mother, Roberta Tiger says, “When we lived in Colorado, she wanted to take riding classes, but it would have been $1,000 per month for the same thing that is offered here for free.”

Sapphire and her cousin have attended almost every class, and Tiger has seen a change in their behavior since becoming involved. “You can tell they’re happy – I don’t know how else to describe it,” she said. “They’ve both had their challenges, but being in this program they are more mellow.”

Sapphire’s first day on a horse was exciting, “At first I was just a little scared, because he was taller than me,” she said. Now she has a favorite horse, Yeller. “I like him because he goes fast and I can control him,” she said.

Destyn Dupris, age 10, daughter of Roni Halfred, has a favorite horse too. “I like Woody; because he’s small and he’s white and he has a good trot.”

Dupris and Lucero are among 18 youth enrolled in the program. They learn all aspects of caring for a horse. “It’s not just riding, they’re learning how to clean stalls and feed and water them,” said McLane. “They’re learning responsibility along with the riding.”

The youth spend the first weeks learning the basics. “We’ve been saddling and doing work,” said Locklin Woods, age 10. “We learned the parts of the saddle and stuff.”

Sapphire is one of the kids who have been borrowing boots since the program started. Her favorite thing about her new boots is, “They’re not loose and I can kick the horse to make him go.”

Locklin also got a new pair of boots which he thinks will help him in his riding. “It’s going to help me ride horses better, so I can ride with my uncle.” Riding is often passed from one generation to the next, but with many families living in Eagle Butte and other communities, a lot of kids are missing out.

“We’re trying to keep our culture with the horse alive,” said Bryan Lawrence, Youth Horsemanship Coordinator. “It’s important to incorporate the culture into it because that is a part of our heritage.”

For these Lakota kids, it just comes naturally. “It feels good, I like riding horses,” Destyn said.

Many of the participants wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get on a horse if it weren’t for the Horsemanship Project. “You don’t just get the country kids,” McLane said. “You get kids who’ve always wanted to ride and now they get a chance.”

“We love to see our younger generation learning respect for the horse,” Briggs said. “Horses have been – and still are – such an important component of Lakota Culture. It was just a good match.”

For Sapphire, it’s been her only opportunity to get on a horse. Tiger also feels that her daughter has learned a lot of responsibility while participating. “I like that they are learning how much it costs to keep a horse, too.”

Lawrence sees the project as an opportunity to give kids something constructive to focus on. “It helps give them an activity rather than walking the street or getting into mischief, and it’s very good exercise,” he said. “We’re glad we could bring horses and kids together.”