A young rodeo rider who was thrown violently from a horse in front of a packed crowd at the Bulkley Valley Exhibition on Saturday has undergone surgery for extensive injuries at Vancouver General Hospital.
Kevin Cunin of Prince George broke several ribs, punctured a lung and fractured his vertebrae when he hit the ground head-first competing in the bareback bronc riding competition about 5 p.m.
The accident unfolded in front of hundreds of people who had gathered to watch the event, which is a popular attraction at the annual Smithers fall fair.
Witnesses report seeing him fall backwards from the horse and land on his head moments after he broke from the gate.
He was the second rider to enter the ring on Saturday.
Local company Jade First Aid were first on the scene to treat the man, who was in a critical condition when B.C. Emergency Health Services arrived and transported him by ambulance to Bulkley Valley District Hospital.
He was transferred to Vancouver General Hospital that day and underwent surgery on Sunday.
B.C. Rodeo Association president Trish Kohorst, who was at the Smithers rodeo when the accident happened, said injuries as severe as Cunin’s were rare despite the dangers of the sport.
“It is not uncommon in the sport to have some types of injuries but the severity of this one is not something we see very often,” she said.
Kohorst said riders underwent training to help prevent severe injuries and rodeos adhered to a strict set of safety rules.
There are also restrictions on the types of animals used in the rodeo, such as limitations on horn-length, she said.
Despite the inherent risks, Kohorst said a passion for the sport kept rodeo riders returning to the ring.
“I’m a competitor as well,” she said.
“If it’s your passion it’s your passion and whether you are mountain-biking, motocross racing, rodeoing, playing football, they all have different risks.”
She said the rodeo community had been hit hard by Cunin’s accident and riders across B.C. were praying for his recovery.
“The rodeo world is a family — it’s a sport where, seconded by none other where we stand behind each other,” said Kohorst.
“Certainly, everyone is behind him and prayers and hopes for his recovery are everywhere.”
She urged the community to express their support for Cunin’s recovery and thanked paramedics for their quick response.