As a football linebacker and offensive lineman, Jaret Cooper has stared down some big bodies, ready to make a tackle or a block.
But those bodies don’t rattle him as much as the one with lots of hair and four legs.
Cooper, 15, a five-foot-eight, 165-pound two-way player for the Vernon Panthers junior varsity football team, is making a name for himself in the sport of rodeo, particularly saddlebronc.
This is an event where Cooper wanders into a bucking chute, climbs the fence, then gets ready to sit down on an animal that weighs upwards of 1,000 pounds, if not more, and hopes to stay aboard the horse for eight seconds while the bucking bronco does everything it can to shed the load upon its back.
Cooper, who has competed in team roping and steer wrestling, only got into saddlebronc a year ago. He came up close and personal with a horse at the Rising Star Canadian Finals Rodeo qualifier in Red Deer.
“I got bucked off and landed right in front of the horse and he ran me over,” chuckled Cooper during his lunch break at VSS. “It wasn’t as bad as it could have been but it definitely didn’t feel very good.”
Perhaps heeding the advice from his rodeo sister, Tylee, a VSS grad on a scholarship at Western Texas College in Snyder, south of Amarillo, competing in barrel racing and goat tying, who told her younger brother to keep going even if he has a rough day, Cooper got back in the saddle and qualified in novice saddlebronc for the CFR in Red Deer in November.
He also won the Canadian championship in novice saddlebronc at the Canadian Junior Roughstock finals in Stettler, Alta., which qualifies Cooper to represent Canada at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in December.
“I’m pretty excited for the CFR,” said Cooper. “The horses are supposed to buck a lot harder there, so I’m a lot nervous for it, too.”
To practice saddlebronc, Cooper and his dad, Tim, drive to Savona, between Kamloops and Cache Creek, on weekends and Cooper rides at friend Ryan Sturreid’s house.
“He’s got broncs, and I get on,” said Cooper, who still competes in team roping and steer wrestling, but concentrates on his favourite event, the saddlebronc.
Like his father, who attend saddlebronc schools and clinics in his 20s and 30s, Cooper went out to Alberta over the summer and attended clinics put on by Vernon native Clay Elliott, now one of the world’s best saddlebronc riders (won the Canadian championship in 2016). And it was at an Elliott clinic at Thanksgiving 2017 that Cooper first got on the back of a bucking bronco. This summer, there were many trips to Alberta to practice saddlebronc.
“This is what we do,” said Tim of the time he cherishes with his son. “He’s a really good roper and steer wrestler, but he’s really grown to where his heart likes saddlebronc and it’s become his favourite. He went to that clinic and it’s grown out of there. He’s been practising all year.”
The Coopers – who have a hydraulic bucking machine at their Vernon home that Jaret rides every night – and the Elliotts have a history. Clay’s parents, Vern and Mona, owned The Cowboys Choice store out on Highway 97 near Swan Lake before selling it to Tim and his wife, Karen, eight years ago. The store has been in operation for 42 years.
Jaret, who, counting Tylee, has three older sisters, credits his family for his rising success.
“My dad and mom buy me all of my equipment because I don’t have that much money,” he said. “Dad drives me to all of my rodeos and puts me in the clinics. Mom cooks and lets us take her nice truck. They help me so much.”