Paralyzed B.C. cowboy set to ride again thanks to custom saddle

Thompson Rivers University Applied Sustainable Ranching Program students Kevin Cunin (left) and Wendy Meijdam show off a modified saddle recently made for Cunin, who is paralyzed from the chest down, so he can compete in team roping. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Thompson Rivers University Applied Sustainable Ranching Program students Kevin Cunin (left) and Wendy Meijdam show off a modified saddle recently made for Cunin, who is paralyzed from the chest down, so he can compete in team roping. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Rebecca Dyok photo
Rebecca Dyok photo
TRU Applied Sustainable Ranching Program student Wendy Meijdam gives a riding demonstration on a saddle made for classmate Kevin Cunin. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
The modified saddle custom build for Kevin Cunin. (Rebecca Dyok photo)

A former BC Rodeo Association bareback rider paralyzed in a 2015 fall is getting back in the saddle once more.

Prince George resident Kevin Cunin, 30, broke his neck five years ago at the BCRA Bulkley Valley Rodeo in Smithers after an awkward fall from a horse during competition. He broke three vertebrae, five ribs and punctured a lung, and was left paralyzed from the chest down, spending almost five months in the hospital.

On Wednesday, Sept. 30, Cunin was on hand at the Williams Lake Stampede Grounds to give a demonstration to his fellow students in the Thompson Rivers University Applied Sustainable Ranching Program in Williams Lake.

Recently gifted a new, specially-tailored saddle that will allow him to make a return to rodeo and to compete in team roping during next year’s BCRA season, Cunin excitedly discussed how it works with his classmates in the program, while Wendy Meijdam, another student in the program, used Cunin’s saddle to ride it around the Stampede arena.

Cunin, who spent the first 12 years of his life in Quesnel and has close ties to the Cariboo, said he hopes to use his eduaction in the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program to clear some land on an acreage he owns to create an energy- and cost-efficient cattle operation in Prince George. He is currently in his final year of the program taking classes remotely from Prince George.

“After my wreck and getting out of the hospital I moved back with my partner at the time with her parents out in Vanderhoof,” Cunin said. “They had some cattle and I got into learning about ranching and cattle, because I didn’t grow up around it. That’s what got me interested in the program. I needed to learn some basics with some more in-depth knowledge to see how I could make an operation work for me so I could still ranch and rodeo with the skills, as well as the restrictions, I have.”

READ MORE: Young rodeo rider suffers extensive injuries at Smithers fall fair

Currently working full time in the forest industry, Cunin has always kept his rodeo family close. He’s currently a director with the Prince George Rodeo Club.

“Pretty soon after I started making some calls about getting a saddle made for me to different saddle makers,” he said.

“I got word of this guy out of Texas — he’s another paralyzed cowboy — who was hurt about 25 years ago named Randy Bird out of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). He can rope, so I figured he would be the right place to go to.”

Missing the sport, Cunin soon started hanging around back at the rodeo arena helping out during roping events.

“They built me a stand, got me up, loaded me up and all winter I’d be roping a dummy doing that, so that was pretty cool,” he said, noting this past July he lined up the purchase of a horse in Westlock, Alta.

“I hopped on him, started roping some steers, bought him and got him back to PG a couple weeks later and I’ve been doing a bunch of work to get ready.”

Cunin has continued to ride horses since his injury, noting his first time back on a horse was in 2018 with the owners at Pen-Y-Bryn Ranch in Quesnel, Paul and Terry Nicholson.

“They were absolutely phenomenal to work with,” he said.

“They do a lot of horse work with vets with PTSD and they’re really cool. It was my first time back on a horse and the three-year anniversary of when I got hurt, and it was so good. It wasn’t scary, and it was really good to get back and go out and do some stuff. But it was also extremely frustrating because, with no special saddle, I could kind of walk around and that was about it. I wanted to go loping, and that’s when I kind of realized I’d need the appropriate saddle to do it.”

His new saddle, which costs roughly four times the amount of a regular saddle, was purchased with the help of the Smithers Rodeo Club, Intercoast Construction Ltd., the Quesnel Rodeo Club and Nomad Welding, along with hep from the Interlakes Rodeo Club and Clint Ellis.

The saddle has a tall, large back to help stabilize Cunin’s core, with a strap that comes across his stomach and holds him in.

“It’s awesome, and I’m so looking forward to be back rodeoing, and competing,” he said. “I played sports like lacrosse and hockey and you get really awesome people involved in sports and the sporting community but rodeo is just a step ahead. Genuinely, really good people.”

He thanked the organizations, businesses and individuals who helped him purchase the saddle, and also added he’s forever grateful for the support he received following his injury and during his recovery.

“The rodeo community was there: I’d be in the hospital laying in bed, and life sucked at that point pretty bad, but I’d open up my phone and look on Facebook and I’d see messages from people I knew, and people I didn’t even know from all over the place — guys who’d been in rodeo wrecks down in the U.S. — even Davey Shields made a special trip from Alberta to come in and chat, so just really cool support from all over.”

Due to his physical restrictions, Cunin will be a heeler during BCRA events.

“I’ve got eight vertebrae that are bolted together in my back, and can’t really be a header because I can’t really turn my back, so being a heeler was the solution. I can make a nice shot and look like the hero,” he joked.

“I hope we have a BCRA season next year and, if they do, I’m coming into Williams Lake [Indoor Rodeo] to start the season off with a big win.”

As for his career decision to eventually start a cattle ranch after graduation, Cunin said he’s fully immersed in the Western lifestyle. He said TRU’s Applied Sustainable Ranching Program has continued to further his interest in agriculture, and noted it has been “absolutely awesome.”

“Rodeo, and the roping cattle industry: everyone kind of knows each other and they’re all willing to help each other out,” he said. “That’s what I like. It really is a big community and a guy’s word still means something.”



greg.sabatino@wltribune.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chris Whiteley and Diana Braithwaite are appearing at the Chemainus Theatre Playbill Dining Room on Nov. 20 and 21. (Photo by Jon Blacker)
Popular blues duo playing two shows at Chemainus Theatre’s Playbill Dining Room

Braithwaite & Whiteley back in town for special dinner performances

HISTORICAL MOMENT
Horseshoe Bay Hotel: The first proprietor was Matthew Howe, who left the mill to build an inn. It even had its own farm which provided food for the household and guests. Records show that J.D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie even stayed there once. (Photo courtesy of the Chemainus Valley Museum)
Historical Moment Oct. 29

Horseshoe Bay Inn Hotel a Chemainus landmark

Vehicles are making the rounds now on Chemainus Road into part of the new roundabout. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Chemainus Road construction Oct. 29

Project continuing to develop, with part of the new River Road roundabout now in use

Police service dog Herc helped RCMP locate and arrest suspects in the Ladysmith area on Oct. 23, 2020, related to a stolen vehicle. (Submitted)
RCMP nab prolific property offender in Ladysmith with assist from police dog Herc

Police attempted to stop the vehicle but it fled from the area towards Chemainus.

NOVEMBER TO REMEMBER
First poppy of a very different campaign leading up to Remembrance Day is pinned on Howard Valleau by Chemainus Legion 191 president Len Lavender alongside Mike Beggs. (Photo by Colin Murphy)
Start of COVID poppy campaign

Remembrance Day service limited to a few but it’s still important to raise funds

Physical distancing signs are a common sight in B.C. stores and businesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS
272 more COVID-19 cases for B.C., outbreak at oil sands project

Three new health care outbreaks, three declared over

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Most Read