Transition from riding bulls to protecting riders resulted in a successful career for Byrne

Photo Courtesy of Scott Byrne Scott Byrne helps a rider get out of danger during the 2014 Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton.

Having grown up around the sport, Scott Byrne was always interested in being involved in rodeo.

“Other than hockey, it was pretty much the only thing I wanted to do, as I was really intrigued by the lifestyle and the people that were around the sport,” Byrne said.

“I started off riding bulls, which I was really bad at, and then I made the switch to being a bullfighter in 1995 with some encouragement from my uncle (and fellow bullfighter) Ryan. When it’s all said and done, thank goodness that I made that switch.”

Byrne’s lengthy career as a bullfighter earned him a spot into the 2020 class of the Prince Albert Sports Hall of Fame, where he will be enshrined in the athlete category.

“Some of my family members are in the hall already along with a lot of other names that I recognize from growing up in Prince Albert,” said Byrne, who now lives just west of Brandon, Man.

“To be there with them makes this really special for me and I’m looking forward to coming back home once the pandemic ends to celebrate with my friends and family.”

Although his career as a bull rider didn’t go as planned, Byrne’s experience proved to be a valuable asset as he made the transition to being a bullfighter.

“You have that perspective of what the rider is going through,” Byrne said. “As you watch them ride, you start to get hints as to when they are going to come off the bull, and it definitely helps when you have been in that position before.

“I’m not sure if I was lucky or what it was, but the transition was rather smooth for me. Right after I thought my first bull at the first school I went to, I knew that this was what I wanted to as a career.”

Byrne would quickly earn the respect of the bull riders as he was chosen to take part in 16 straight Calgary Stampedes, 14 consecutive Canadian Professional Rodeo Association championships, 10 Professional Bull Riders finals in a row, eight straight Canadian Cowboy Association championships and three straight Manitoba Cowboy Association events.

“We all start together on those little rodeos that throughout the small towns in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan,” Byrne said.  “You are all looking to get to those big rodeos and you know that you have done your job whenever you get the call to take part in them.

“Every year was a fresh start though and you have to prove yourself all over again. That’s something that I tell the new bullfighters that are coming along. You have to pretend that you have never been there before.”

One of the major highlights Byrne’s rodeo career came in 2011 at the Calgary Stampede, when he took part in a private showing of bull and sheep fighting to Prince William and Princess Kate.

“That’s one of those things where you bring it up during conversation and people look at you and say ‘come on,’” Byrne joked.

“I’ve been really fortunate to meet some famous people during my career and to also become friends with people all over the country. I owe everything to the sport of rodeo and to my family for sticking by me.”

Since he retired in 2016, Byrne has kept busy in a variety of ways.

He’s hosted bullfighting schools, helped to set up protocols for concussion and mental health awareness in rodeo and worked as a colour commentator for TSN’s coverage of the PBR Canada tour.

“I had this misconception that things would slow down a bit once I finished up as a bullfighter,” Byrne laughed. “If anything, I’m more on the go now than I was then.

“The sport has changed a lot since I started, but the safety has really come a long way, which is great to see. Everyone’s wearing protective vests now, about 60 per cent of the riders are wearing helmets and everyone’s more educated about how to take care of themselves as they go up and down the road. There’s a totally different mindset now and it’s allowing the riders to have longer careers.”