Big Break

photo by Matt Cohen / Cowboy Journal

photo by Matt Cohen / Cowboy Journal

I don’t know why he picked me, but I’m sure grateful that he did. It was a fairytale trip.

by Kolton Schmidt

I don’t remember the exact day he called me. It was the winter of 2011. I was sixteen years old, and Tyrel—Canadian team roper Tyrel Flewelling—was at least twenty-four, maybe older. We were family friends. I’m a header, and he’s a heeler, and we had practiced team roping together the previous summer.

Tyrel called to ask if I wanted to go on the road with him that year. Man, I wish we could have struck out the very next day. Instead, I had to wait patiently for the first rodeo.

Tyrel had won everything there was to win at the amateur rodeos and had already qualified for the Canadian Finals Rodeo once. He was well known and definitely could have gotten whoever he wanted as a partner.

I don’t know why he picked me, but I’m sure grateful that he did. It was a fairytale trip.

photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen

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Raised a Roper

I grew up in Barrhead, Alberta, four hours north of Calgary. It’s a small town where everybody knows everybody. My family has a lot to do with the town.

I can’t remember when I first swung a rope from a horse. I was a baby, I guess. I know for a fact that when I could walk I was already riding. And I’ve been roping for as long as it’s been possible for me to rope.

I’m a third-generation team roper. My grandpa got the family started with horses and the equine industry, and we branched out from there into team roping. My dad, Ronald, is a heeler. I started going to amateur rodeos with Dad as my partner when I was around eleven. We made the amateur finals when I was twelve or thirteen. Back then, it was more about learning how to ride horses and compete than anything. Any success we had was a bonus.

Team roping is still a young event in Canada. It didn’t get a place at the Canadian Finals Rodeo until 2000. That year, my dad and his heading partner, Troy Fischer, were the first-ever Canadian team-roping champions. Dad also got selected to compete in team roping at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. He didn’t win a medal, but two of his fellow team ropers—Rocky Dallyn and Murray Linthicum—beat Speed Williams and Rich Skelton to win the gold medal.

Are You Ready?

To get a chance like Tyrel gave me when I was sixteen was like a sigh of relief. All we can ask for in life is a chance. But it was excitement and nerves, too. It really took me out of my comfort zone. I was in over my head. Are you good enough? I wondered. Are you ready?

That year, we probably went to forty rodeos during the regular season. We didn’t do great, but we were good enough to make the Canadian Finals. By then, I had turned seventeen, but I was still the youngest team roper to qualify.

At the Canadian Finals, you compete in six rounds and for the average. In 2011, me and Tyrel caught all six steers and won the average. He ended the year as the Canadian champion. In the heading, I finished second that year behind Levi Simpson. Like I said, it was a fairytale trip. It completely ruined me! I’ve expected that same level of excitement every year, and I’ve been let down a few times because of it.

The success I’ve had is all due to my horses, my family and my partners. Since 2011, I’ve been back to the Canadian Finals four more times. In 2013, I won the Canadian gold buckle. And in 2016, I qualified for the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas with heeler Shay Carroll. Any amount of success I’ve had in this career of mine has been because of those three things—horses, partners and family support system.

By now, Tyrel has won three or four Canadian titles. He never really roped in the PRCA. He’s got a family and a successful business. Those were his priorities. I respect him for looking after them, but I sure do wish he’d have given the PRCA a chance. It would have been cool to see how far he could have gone.

I’m sure ready to go back to the Thomas & Mack. This year, I’ve got some great horses, and I’m roping with Jeremy Buhler. I’m currently standing 25th and looking forward to the rest of the summer.

My goal has always been clear: to be able to rope and make a living. Everybody wants to win the gold buckle, but to pay our bills and live the life that we love—and get to do it every day—what more could a guy ask for in life?

photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen

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