IJRA - a tight-knit group to help build confidence

By Quentin Jodie
Navajo Times

CROWNPOINT, August 1, 2013

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(Times photo – Ravonelle Yazzie)

Oak Springs, Ariz., cowgirl Peyton Murphy makes a left turn around the barrel during the 26th annual Eastern Navajo Agency Fair & Rodeo on Friday in Crownpoint. Murphy had a time of 16.67.

H er future in rodeo has no boundaries. But the one thing that Peyton Murphy fears the most is team roping.

"I'm pretty good at what I do but I just don't do team roping," said the 14-year-old Oak Springs, Ariz. cowgirl at the Eastern Navajo Fair. "I'm afraid that I'll get my fingers caught in my dally."

As one of the most accomplished athletes in the Indian Junior Rodeo Association, Murphy is trying to overcome her neurosis with the help of others within the association.

"I've never seen her (team rope) before so I'm trying to encourage her to do it," said Justin Yazzie, one of Murphy's chief rivals last year. "Actually I want her to heel for me."

Last season, Yazzie finished as the year-end all-around champion in the junior coed division in a tight race with Murphy and Naschitti, N.M. cowboy Lane Begay.

"She does real well in the other events but I think she'll be a good team roper," Begay said. "I told her that she needs to start out slow and she'll get better."

Both cowboys agree that Murphy has dominated the barrel racing and a pole-bending field for the last two seasons. As a matter of fact, she won the year-end titles in both events last year.

The soon-to-be freshman at Window Rock High is also very good handling herself in the goat tying and breakaway roping events.

"When I compete all I try to do is hustle," said Murphy, who placed first in both the barrels and poles at this year's ENF.

The only thing left on her to do list, of course, is team roping.

"I want to do it," Murphy said. "I always tell myself that I'm going to do it at the next rodeo."

And although she's unsure when that time will come, she has the support she needs from the entire IJRA community.

"I like her to succeed and win a couple of rodeos in the team roping," Begay said. "I think she's capable of doing it this year."

That camaraderie goes way deep. It was in full display at last week's rodeo in Crownpoint.

"A lot of the kids are encouraging one another," said current IJRA president Curtis Bitsie. "That is what we're about. We want to help build up confidence."

For that reason Bitsie said his association places a lot of value on "people helping one another out."

A great example of that deed happened during the barrel racing competition when two young girls had a hard time completing their runs.

"They rode a bay horse and each time that horse ran he just shot-out and didn't complete the run," Bitsie said. And "even though they had to walk their horse through we were encouraging them."

Needless to say, those two girls posted a pair of no times but the purpose was to get their horse a better understanding of how to complete the pattern.

"We want to help build our kids up," Bitsie said. "We want to help them be competitive … so regardless of what happens out there we always give them a hand."

And when something does not go right, Bitsie said his group of volunteers is always there to help correct those mistakes.

"We want them to build their skills," he said.

Since 1975 that is what the IJRA organization has been doing.

According to Bitsie, the organization was started by Eugene Charley and it originated from the Western Agency of the reservation.

"It made its way to the Eastern Agency," Bitsie said.

"It's taught me a lot of new things," Yazzie said when asked to reflect his years growing up through the organization. "When I was a kid I came to my first rodeo and I saw a lot of kids roping. I told my grandpa that I wanted to try it so he bought me an old white mare."

For those first few years, Yazzie said he made do with his horse and in some races he finished the barrel racing competition in last place.

Since then he's seen progress with his horsemanship and credited the older members for guiding him in the right direction.

"I really looked up to Tee O' Brien Jim," Yazzie said. "He helped me with a lot of my events."

As for Begay, he sought out Emerson Long Jr., a former IJRA member, who went on to compete for the Navajo Technical College rodeo team.

"When I first started I didn't know what I was doing but he helped me out a lot," Begay said. "We have different people helping other people out."

In other words, the IJRA is a tight-knit group that is there to help and foster its member, something that Charley envisioned some 38 years ago.

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