Guiding her horse around barrels or poles is no problem for Vernon Secondary cowgirl Tylee Cooper.
Having a camera crew film her every move and talk about life in rodeo, on the other hand…
Cooper is among Canadian high school cowgirls and cowboys chosen to be the subject of a documentary called Cowboy Up, which airs on CBC TV’s Firsthand Thursday at 9 p.m.
“I get into my own zone when performing and don’t even think about that stuff,” said Cooper, 16, a Grade 11 student, when asked if competing or having a camera crew follow her around was more nerve-wracking.
“I wasn’t used to having a camera crew around. The people were watching me and it didn’t matter what I was doing, they were there filming.”
The hour-long documentary takes viewers through “the highs and lows young riders face hoping to make the National High School Finals Rodeo in Wyoming.
A national high school rodeo director recommended Cooper to the show’s producers, who ended up interviewing Cooper and a number of other athletes in B.C. and Alberta.
Cooper, the vice-president and goat tying representative for the B.C. High School Rodeo Association, was filmed first in Merritt, at a high school event as she tried to qualify for the B.C. finals.
She won the goat tying event at the B.C. finals in Kamloops, and qualified for and competed, for a second straight year, at the National High School Rodeo Finals in Rock Springs, Wy.
That event is the largest rodeo in the world and brings together athletes from across North America. Cooper was filmed at that competition, as well as in Kamloops.
She charmed producers from their first meeting.
“It was obvious that she has a passion for the sport and was serious about doing well,” said Judith Pyke, founder of Home and Away Productions, which executive produced Cowboy Up.
“I was also really struck by the tight-knit aspect of her family and their connection to the community. Beyond that, I was impressed by what a well- spoken, mature teen she is and taken by the bond that she has with her horses and just her dedication to farm life in general.”
Cooper plans to have her parents, Tim and Karen, her siblings and maybe a few friends over to the family ranch in Spallumcheen to watch the documentary.
She admits to being excited and a bit nervous about the final product because she opened up more about her love for rodeo and the bond she has with her horse, Daisy, a 17-year-old registered American Paint horse, than ever before.
“Everything we did in the documentary was a really cool experience,” said Cooper. “When they asked me to explain what I liked or enjoyed about rodeo, I explained the connection I have with Daisy.
“It really brought up my emotions and I really realized how much I love rodeo and the affect it’s had on my life.”
Cooper was lassoed into rodeo on a visit to her aunt and uncle’s place in Colorado six years ago, where her cousins were team ropers.
Upon returning to the North Okanagan, Cooper contacted Vern Elliott and his late wife, Mona, the former owners of The Cowboy’s Choice (the store Cooper’s parents now own and operate).
“I would practise at the Elliott house,” said Cooper. “They helped me out so much and they helped me find Daisy. Their son (Clay) taught me how to rope. I’d go to their place everyday after school.”
Cooper, who competes in barrel racing, goat tying, pole bending, breakaway roping and team roping, wants to become a veterinarian and land a college scholarship for rodeo.
Pyke said there’s been a lot of conversation lately about how important it is for kids to have grit, be able to bounce back from failure and try again.
Cowboy Up, she said, is a measure of how successful they will be as people later on in life.
“Without a doubt the young people in Cowboy Up have grit in spades. This was one of my biggest impressions of the kids,” said Pyke.
“They were also very tied to the ranching and farm lives that they live on a daily basis which rodeo is an extension of. It’s very much about lifestyle and family for these kids who were all interested in keeping cowboy tradition alive.”