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I Would Never Have Imagined a Princess Doing This!

07/07/2015 09:37 BST | Updated 03/07/2016 10:59 BST

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Livia Manywounds

Photo Courtesy of Images Unlimited

There is nothing like a dream to keep you motivated. Just thinking about it can light up your life like nothing else ever could.

No one knows this better than Calgary Stampede Indian Princess 2007 Livia Manywounds, a proud and determined young First Nations woman who is pursuing her childhood dream of becoming a world champion barrel racer. To her, there is nothing more exciting or challenging that tearing around barrels on her beloved horse, working hard to improve her skills and her time.

"It's teamwork," asserts Manywounds. "It's not just about hopping on the horse and expecting it to know everything. You are the captain of the ship and you have to direct the ship where you want it to go."

She explains, "It's such a skillful event; you have to really train for it. You're riding your horse all the time, exercising your horse, correcting how he turns the barrel, how you want him to turn the barrel, as well as the speed. How fast do you want your horse to go? How much can you push him? How fast can he go?"

She adds that it's not just about getting the horse to do its part. "How am I going to position my body? How's my balance? When do I look at my next barrel? When do I look home? There's a lot that goes into this. You can't just expect to get on a horse and go."

Growing up in a rodeo family, it comes as no surprise that as a feisty little girl she would have wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father and six older siblings, some of whom are still as involved as she is.

Her father, Francis Manywounds, is one of the oldest living cowboys in the Tsuu T'ina Nation as well as being one of the oldest members of the Cowboy Society. As the 1953 Steer Decorating Champion of the Calgary Stampede, he was bound to influence his family toward a rodeo life.

"Me, my brother Shane, my mom, dad and two nephews travel through Alberta, Saskatchewan and Montana to different rodeos," offers the young woman eagerly. They travel all summer as a family, loading up their horses and following each other in a convoy.

Manywounds is quick to express her deep gratitude for the support and encouragement she gets from her family, especially with respect to her rodeo dreams. "I couldn't do this without them," she offers appreciatively. "They build my confidence, my self-esteem. They help with anything I need."

Manywounds' parents, Francis and Laurette, came from the harsh background of Indian residential schools, one of the biggest and ugliest blots on Canada's history. From the mid-1880s to the late 1990s, many Aboriginal children (as young as four years old) were taken from their homes and families, and forced to live in institutions run by religious orders in collaboration with the government. Of the 150,000 children who lived in these schools, the vast majority suffered abuse, shame, neglect and deprivation.

"Considering that my parents came from Indian residential schools, lost their cultural identity and were not allowed to speak their language...to still be here and remember their language fluently...and to encourage us to learn our culture, it shows they've been through a lot but still stand firm in their roots. I'm so thankful for my parents," says Manywounds, her deep love and respect for them apparent in her voice.

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(Photo by Liberty Forrest)

As Indian Princess in 2007, Manywounds was given the opportunity to learn more about her culture and to connect with many mentors associated with the Calgary Stampede, not just in the Stampede Royalty program but also in the rodeo. "I get lots of tips, pointers and encouragement [for barrel racing]...I picked up breakaway roping last year and I have a lot of good mentors for that, too," she says gratefully. She has also appreciated the role modeling and inspiration she has received from the Indian Princess Alumni, a strong group of empowered women who have become a family along with so many others associated with the Stampede.

Having become Indian Princess was another of Manywounds' dreams. Knowing that the competition is open to women 18-25, "I remember being 17 and bugging the co-ordinator asking if I could apply!" she chuckles. When she was finally old enough, she did apply and was the first runner-up for 2006. With her Indian Princess dream clear in her mind, she tried again the following year and was crowned, adding, "My life has changed so much since [then]...I could never have imagined...I was very humbled to be in that position."

Although Manywounds is heavily involved with rodeo life and continues to be a part of the Indian Princess Alumni activities, she has other interests as well, including being a suicide prevention advocate and a filmmaker. "I can't brand myself; I can't be one image," she laughs. "I like to experience and do new things."

But barrel racing is her passion. "I remember being 10 years old riding this really old gelding. I would set up little plastic buckets in a clover-leaf pattern and put on this really ugly cowboy hat. My dad or my siblings might be working in the yard and I'd be yelling 'Look at me! I'm Charmayne James!' [11-times World Champion Barrel Racer] I thought, 'I'm gonna be like her!' That was my dream as I was running around these old buckets with an old horse and my ugly hat."

During the summer months, she and her horse are together "...24/7. He's one of my best friends. Riding him is therapy. If I don't have a good day, I get on my horse and all the stress just goes away. It's a sense of relief and happiness. It's an undefined love, that relationship you have with a horse. It's a spiritual thing."

And isn't that where dreams come from? Move over, Charmayne...