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)
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 photoRebecca Dyok photo
Rebecca Dyok photoRebecca 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)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)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

Mina Shahsavar is a fourth-year student in the bachelor of science in nursing program at University of the Fraser Valley and is an employed student nurse at Abbotsford Regional Hospital. (Submitted photo)
Nursing student in Abbotsford plans for career in critical care

Mina Shahsavar inspired during hospital stays as a child

The Canadian Forensic Health Corporation, made up of (left to right) Kirstin Simpson, Adrienne Fershau, Tiffany Kafka, Susan Short and Cole Bruce, are changing the game for the forensic nurse occupation. (Submitted)
Abbotsford nurses create Canadian Forensic Health Corporation

Tiffany Kafka, Susan Short, Kirstin Simpson, Cole Bruce and Adrienne Fershau teaching new generation

A pair of deer were spotted in Abbotsford on Tuesday (May 11) morning. (Submitted)
VIDEO: Pair of deer explore Abbotsford neighbourhood

Resident captures deer duo munching on foliage and then wandering off

A 45-metre cell tower has been proposed on Simpson Road in west Abbotsford. (City of Abbotsford)
45-metre cell tower proposed for Simpson Road in Abbotsford

Installation to be on private farm land near Aldergrove border

....
Abbotsford’s Phulka drops match at Olympics qualifier

Jasmit Singh Phulka fails to punch his ticket to Tokyo after opening round loss

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
VIDEO: B.C. to provide 3 days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

Boats in the Fraser River launched from Barrowtown and Ft. Langley on May 12 to search for the missing fisherman. (Steve Simpson)
Boats searching the Fraser River for missing Abbotsford fisherman

Anyone with ‘a boat, time, or a drone’ to help bring Damian Dutrisac home was asked to help

Vancouver court on Tuesday, March 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Defence lawyers call foul as Crown counsel granted access to COVID-19 vaccines

Defence attorneys are calling upon the province to extend inoculation access to workers in courtrooms across B.C.

A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Fraser Health still unsure if 333 cases of COVID among students, teachers were acquired in school

88 cases of 267 cases the health authority considers to be school-acquired lead to spread outside of school

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police “E” Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday April 13, 2018. Indigenous leaders are calling for an investigation into the conduct of Mounties on Vancouver Island after two police shootings of members of a small First Nations community in three months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Indigenous leaders call for clarity, investigation into RCMP after B.C. shooting

The RCMP declined to comment on the requests by Indigenous leaders

Colleen Price, Vancouver Island University’s bachelor of science in nursing program chairperson, says she is impressed with how students have persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Next generation of B.C. nurses already showing resilience

University program head says learning had to be adjusted amidst pandemic

Two-year-old Kashius Weme rides at the Steve Smith Memorial Bike Park in Nanaimo on Tuesday, May 11. The youngster’s precocious bike-riding ability is already attracting cycle sponsors. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
2-year-old B.C. bike rider already attracting cycle sponsors

Nanaimo’s Kashius Weme has a knack for extreme cycle sports

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
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

Most Read