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)
The modified saddle custom build for 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)
Rebecca Dyok photo
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)

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

The City of Quesnel is applying for grant funding to replace the Dragon Hill Reservoir, which staff says will improve overall water quality. (Photo courtesy of City of Quesnel)
City of Quesnel seeking grant to replace water reservoir

A new Dragon Hill Reservoir will improve overall water quality, according to City staff

Quesnel was hit with unseasonably October snowfall earlier this week. More is on the way on Sunday, Oct. 25 and Monday, Oct. 26, and Quesnel and North Cariboo are under a winter storm warning. (Cassidy Dankochik Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
“Hazardous” weather expected for Quesnel: Environment Canada

10-20 cm of snow and freezing rain are expected to start Sunday night

Kelly and Mila Bradley attended a drive-by volunteer event for Coralee Oakes. The incumbent B.C. Liberal is the preliminary leader for the Cariboo North. (Photo Submitted)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Coralee Oakes on track to reclaim Cariboo North seat

Mail-in ballots have not been counted, but the incumbent B.C. Liberal has 49.4 per cent of the vote

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

A police pursuit ended with an arrest in Williams Lake on Highway 97 Sunday afternoon. (Facebook video screenshot)
Video catches police pursuit that ends with man kicked, punched in Williams Lake

A video of the arrest is getting widely shared on social media

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Provincial Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau speaks at Provincial Green Party headquarters at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in Victoria. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)
VIDEO: Furstenau leads BC Greens to win first riding outside of Vancouver Island

Sonia Furstenau became leader of BC Greens one week before snap election was called

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Most Read