On May 21, 2022, the Alberta Standardbred Horse Association and Century Downs will host a special mental health day in cooperation with the Lionheart Foundation. The Lionheart Foundation is a new organization specializing in assisting young people 12 to 25 and their families with anxiety-based mental health challenges.
In July of 2021, Tyler Redwood spoke publicly with various media including TROT Magazine about his battles with substance abuse and mental health difficulties. Redwood volunteered to speak to Horse Racing Alberta again in support of the upcoming mental health day nine months after initially sharing his story.
“I felt a lot of fear," shared Redwood, when asked how he felt after being so open about his battles. "I had decided to face up to some very difficult demons in my life. I was still fixing myself at the time. I was still in a dark place. The old me never socialized. I never did anything. I hid from who I was and where I came from. I was nonexistent with all these problems."
The following is an article written by Horse Racing Alberta's Jeff Robillard, speaking with Redwood nine months later.
Feedback floods in quickly
Shortly after telling his story, Tyler started to hear the feedback and was taken aback by people’s kindness. “The responses started to come in very fast, and I felt overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe that I was in the position to make a difference. Remember, I was still fixing myself at the time. As people opened up to me, I was able to relate to what they were going through — and we could face it together. People confided in me, trusted me, and I was honoured I could try to help.”
At the time, Tyler did not believe that sharing his story would be a catalyst for the impact he was about to make. Numerous requests via the Internet started to come in. On July 21, 2021, Tyler conducted a very moving live radio interview on 630 CHED with Reid Wilkins, the host of Inside Sports. “I was extremely nervous about doing this live interview. I was about to speak about my troubles publicly. I was going to tell everyone listening what I went through. Honestly, I didn’t want to do it. In fact, when the producer called me to let me know I would be on the air in one minute, I came so close to just hanging up the phone. But I realized that would be the easy way out.”
A helping hand reaches out
It was a good thing Tyler found the courage to participate in the interview. A gentleman contacted Tyler shortly after. The person was in a desperate situation and asking for help. “I got a dark message on Facebook from a young man in a bad situation right after the interview. He was struggling with addiction. He was in a very bad place. He was just about to call his drug dealer when my interview played. He gave me his contact information, and I got a hold of him right away. We talked for a couple of hours, and we set up a plan to get him help. He never called his drug dealer. He turned things around, and he is still sober and clean to this day.”
More requests to share
The requests for Tyler to share did not slow down. Next was a request from CTV Alberta to tape a story with Tyler at Track On 2 in Lacombe. “This was very different for me because you could only slightly hear my emotion on the radio. Now people were getting the chance to see the real me in person at my home track. Dealing with the pressure of some real hard questions with my peers all around me while trying to be sincere and honest was very hard. Now anyone watching got to watch me get emotional and upset. I really put myself right out there.”
Tyler’s story about his difficult battle with substance abuse and mental health appeared on the CTV Alberta 6 p.m. newscast that evening. 109,000 viewers in Calgary and 106,00 viewers in Edmonton tuned in. His story aired again the next morning on the CTV Alberta morning show. Another 100,000 viewers tuned into that.
More people seeking help
Tyler then jumped in to tell us about another interaction that really touched him. “After doing the CTV interview, I got another message on Facebook asking for help. A gentleman I will call 'John' messaged me. He needed to talk, as alcohol had consumed him and taken over his daily life. This hit me hard because, really, this was me — I was looking in a mirror. He was on the verge of losing his job, his wife kicked him out of the house, and he was going to lose his kids. I wasn’t going to let this happen, so I kept in close contact with him for a long time. He then finally accepted help and made drastic lifestyle changes. I spoke to him a month ago. He is still sober, his wife let him move back in, he got a promotion at work, and he is heavily involved in his child’s sports team.”
Now for some video
Tyler’s story then shifted from mainstream media to an industry video feature by Horse Racing Alberta and Shine Light Entertainment.
“Believe it or not, this all became easier for me with all the media we did. It is important for me to say that while this was going on, everyone around me encouraged me to keep going, to keep helping others, and not stop doing good things. Now I was putting myself out there. The video included the key people around me – my family, my horses, Star Flight and of course, my rock Logan [Archibald]. Everyone I got to work with on this video treated me so well, and they made me feel so comfortable. It was a challenge and very time-consuming. We shot over three days, and I made the mistake of getting a haircut halfway through it.”
Tyler’s video story went viral, eclipsing over two million impressions. And the interview requests continued to come in. Tyler’s story now had reached over three million people when you add up all the platforms and channels that had featured him.
Time for a break
Then suddenly, everything came to a stop. I felt in my heart that I had to watch out for Tyler’s recovery, so I decided not to grant any more interview requests. Tyler asked me to manage and help him with the media from day one, and I was happy to do that for him. But I could tell the amount of attention he was getting weighed heavily on him. After everything he had done for the industry and helping so many others, it was time to take a break — it was time for Tyler to return to his normal life. Tyler didn’t know I made that decision, but I thought it best and didn’t want to include him in the decision as I knew what he would have said. He would have wanted to keep helping, and everything was telling me that we were on a slippery slope.
I shared the decision with Tyler, and he took a deep breath and admitted, “I was very relieved when all the media attention stopped. It was a distraction from my daily life. I felt I could breathe again. This was a big sacrifice; I sacrificed time with my horses, with my kids, and with Logan. Now I could really concentrate on my family and my barn while having the time to focus and assist the people who reached out to me for help. Through this whole ordeal, I realized if I could continue to work hard, I could help people and save someone.”
Logan takes the opportunity to show more support
For the last nine months, every time I visited Tyler, his girlfriend Logan worked diligently in the background. It only takes a minute to recognize Logan as Tyler’s rock, offering endless support and comfort for him on his journey. She is an amazing lady: quiet, sincere, always smiling in the background avoiding the camera and any limelight.
Finally, after months of trying, I got to ask Logan how she felt about everything that had taken place. Here’s what she had to say: “My very first thought when he told me about the story being written and the awareness of mental health it would hopefully bring was absolute pride for him. I am so proud of what he has overcome and his progress over the last few years. But for his story to finally get out there and how it could possibly help others was a blessing for him. Everyone that struggles with mental health and addiction deserves help and recognition. I was happy that he identified it was time to tell his story and that he felt comfortable in doing so. Honestly, I never thought it would go as far as it has. Truthfully, the bigger it got, a small part of me was concerned that the pressure of it all might affect him negatively. The highs and lows of it are the most extreme. Most of the days are good; however, we all have our bad days — and with his story being out there, I feel like he takes those bad days a little bit harder now with the fear people will see them as a failure. This only pushes him to work harder and be better than he was yesterday.”
With a smile, Logan then adds, “Tyler is honestly his best self when he knows that he’s helping others. He takes so much pride in everything he does, regardless of what it involves. It could be with the horses or shoeing or just sitting down and letting someone share their problems with him. This whole experience has been such an amazing opportunity for him and has brought a little light to the stigma of mental health. I can only hope that it has helped others and given some the confidence to reach out and ask for help.”
Horse racing and mental health
Tyler then asked if we could move the conversation to discuss mental health issues. In 2021, the Alberta horse racing industry was rocked when a talented young man in the Standardbred industry and a promising young lady on the Thoroughbred side committed suicide.
“Mental health problems are an illness. No matter how good or bad things are, we will all struggle. If you don’t struggle, then you’re not human. It’s so important that you talk to someone – this will levitate so much pressure on you. Yes, talking about it takes courage and is very scary, but it can be so much easier on you if you talk to someone. Listen, I know how hard it is to tell someone to do something persistently. Find someone you can trust – find someone who will not judge you, and if you can’t, please connect with me on Facebook," says Tyler.
On May 21, 2022, the Alberta Standardbred Horse Association and Century Downs will host a special mental health day in cooperation with the Lionheart Foundation. Tyler encourages anyone reading this story to come out to the track and share.
“I would like to challenge the Alberta horse racing and breeding industry and all national horse associations to set up a Backstretch Mental Health Assistance Program. I have witnessed firsthand backstretch workers of all breeds need a place to go to ask for help,” urges Tyler.
Forging ahead for Tyler
When I asked Tyler what he has learned about himself in the last nine months, he spoke openly: “It was really important for me to understand my feelings and what was going through my mind. I learned that I wasn’t having a bad day, week, or month anymore – there were now only bad moments, which I learned to cope with. I had to get clean first, then address my mental health situation. It all came with a wide range of emotions. One time happy, then sad, then angry, then great fear. I learned that with help, you could love yourself and truly love others. My goal from day one was to challenge myself to be better than I was the day before – then it was wash, rinse, and repeat.”
Tyler’s eyes then lit up as we began to talk about his barn. “I have three two-year-olds, two three-year-olds and two cagey vets. One of my three-year-olds, Knockin Boots, is the best horse I have ever owned – you all need to watch out for him, that’s all I’m going to say."
Two unbroken pals and a new friend
No discussion with Tyler would be complete without asking about Star Flight, the horse that everyone gave up on that Tyler developed an incredible bond with. “I’m not broken anymore, and Star Flight is not broken anymore. We helped each other heal. She is where she deserves to be. My girl is at Olds College waiting to be bred. We are hoping to breed her next week to Custard The Dragon. She’s probably running around right now in the field with her new best friend, Rock N Roll Dragon. One of our Shadow Play yearlings will join them next week.”
Tyler and his connections are very excited about the arrival of Star Flight’s first foal. Tyler looked me directly in the eyes and exclaimed, “We have already picked a name for her first baby. The name represents many things that are very important to us. The name really describes this entire trip we have been on. The name reflects my indigenous roots, Saulteaux - Cowessess First Nation, truth and reconciliation, the challenges with mental health, and overcoming substance abuse. Star Flight’s first foal will be called THEYCANHEARUS.”
(With files from Horse Racing Alberta)