"It was a risky road back then, but a happy life, that's about all you got out of rodeo because you spent all you made," Ken said shortly before his death. Ken remembered his younger days on the reserve when, as kids, they used to entice two bulls into the same pasture and watch them fight. He recalled the days when cars and trucks were a secondary mode of transportation. Horses used to be led or driven to rodeos at Pincher Creek, Fort Macleod and Lethbridge back in the early 1930s, he said.
Ken was a tough, capable calf roper. He was second in the Canadian standings twice and second at the Calgary Stampede in 1952. He also served as a pickup man at Calgary for 21 years, a job he loved.
"I rodeoed for 45 summers - that's quite a while," Ken said. "I roped calves from 1936 until 1965. We used to have a lot of fun at rodeos then, with fiddle music and dancing. We were a close group. I never had any problems - when I was asked by a bartender back then if I was Indian, I'd laugh and tell him, 'no, I'm smoked Irish.' When Fred Gladstone and I started calf roping we used to practise on the open prairie - badger and gopher holes didn't make any difference. We had fun.
Fred and I and a bunch of others started the IRCA too." In 1976 Ken Tailfeathers switched interests, turning to horse racing. His first horse, Barbie's Finale, hooked him on the sport, he said. Among his favourites, and best, were a Quarter horse, Bar Azure and a Thoroughbred, My Son Warren. Both were also favourites with bettors at Whoop-Up Downs in Lethbridge. Bar Azure won Horse of the Year honours for the B circuit in the mid-1980s, said Ken's son Ira.
"We were really proud of him when the horse received that saddle and blanket at High River," said Ira. "Dad was a real good horseman. Bar Azure had run at Raymond in 1979 just after my brother Punch's daughter Charmaine died. Punch asked me to ride and win for her; but I was a little too big. We really wanted to win the race for her so I asked Elijah Bourne to ride for us, and that told the story. He won." Ira said every time his father would buy a horse the pair would check it out together. "I would get on its back and see how it would run," said Ira.
Ira trained many of his Dad's top horses, including Bar Azure, Miss Stormy Reed, Pearl's Choice, Grassy's Last Gas, Miss Barbie's Finale, My Son Warren, Slow Hand Man, Alert Bay and Tesky Road. Grassy's Last Gas was a good horse which Ken bought from Jim Munro. "We had to re-break him though," Ira said with a laugh. "Grassy was kind of special to me.
He was a one-man horse and I was the man. For me he was real special. I raced him once two weeks in a row, over three furlongs and he won both. After that we put him in five furlong races. He won five or six straight races at Whoop-Up Downs in the 1980s." Ken died August 21, 1988 at age 71 while at a race meet in Kalispell, Montana, right in the winner's circle. He had just won a race with Grassy's Last Gas. Ira has the winner's circle picture with the horse and his Dad, taken just minutes before Ken collapsed.
On the same day, My Son Warren was up in Lethbridge and he won that day as well. That made Ken's last two races winning ones. It was a great way to go out and he would have liked it that way said Ira.