Like all Canadians, who are part of the rodeo and bull riding community, Scott Byrne grew up watching the Calgary Stampede and dreaming of being there one day.
It took a little longer than he thought, but he got there.
And, just like that, the married, father of two is in the twilight of a 20-year career as a professional bullfighter.
Earlier this year, the 43-year-old announced it would be last and naturally it was a bittersweet trip to the Stampede this year. It was bitter knowing it would be his last, but sweet taking part in it one last time with his cousins Jesse and Tanner Byrne.
“It was kind of mixed emotions, especially as the days wound down,” recalled Scott Byrne, who stood in the arena last Sunday afternoon “and took it all in and looked at things a little different. I looked at the stands and all the things you kind of take for granted, but it sure was cool to do with my cousins though.”
“It’s been really good to watch because they work so good together,” said Ryan Byrne, Scott’s uncle and the father to both Jesse and Tanner. “They team up well together and they really have a lot of fun.”
The toughest moment, however, came two days earlier when Stampede officials paid tribute to the longtime bullfighter.
Sure bullfighters are tough-minded individuals and Scott laughed when admitting the moment got to him.
“That’s when it really hit me that it was done,” Scott said. “And, I won’t lie to you, I just kept pushing my sunglasses closer to my cheeks to make sure no tears came out.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster for sure this year, but there comes a time when you just have to call it and I never ever wanted to hold on so long that you were known as the guy that did, so I’m definitely making the right decision. That’s what my gut tells me anyway.”
Growing up in a rodeo family, Scott traveled a lot with his uncle Ryan – the first Canadian bullfighter to ever work the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, in Las Vegas – and his cousins Bo, Jesse and Tanner.
Like Bo and Tanner, who is currently ranked 17th in the world standings, Scott was a young bull rider.
At 23, he was struggling through another season — “I was terrible and not going to live through another year because I was donating money” — when Ryan, 52, pulled him aside, while the two were fencing together one afternoon, and encouraged him to try bullfighting.
He attended one of Ryan’s bullfighting schools, in the Spring of 1995, and took to it.
Scott said he had always wanted to try his hand at bullfighting, but had never had the courage to ask Ryan for help. He saw this as his opportunity.
“Fighting bulls just kind of came natural to him,” Ryan recalled. “He read bulls really well and he just sort of started right off at the top and went from there. … He’s really built. He’s strong right through the core and his legs are thick as my thighs and he’s just built really athletic, so I knew that part would be OK for him and he didn’t have any fear of the bulls. Once he picked it up and felt the adrenaline rush, he just took off with it.”
“It just went from there,” Scott said. “I’m sure glad he had the fortitude to look ahead and suggest making a switch because (otherwise) my rodeo career would have been done a long time ago.”
Over the past two decades, Scott has worked a combination of Canadian Pro Rodeos and, of course, Canadian PBR events.
Jesse, who is 29, also learned the craft from his dad, but once he was ready to hit the road, he shadowed his older cousin for a few years and fought bulls alongside Scott until making the trip south to the U.S. to work PBR events.
Scott said he’s proud to watch Jesse and Tanner compete at an elite level.
In Jesse’s early days, Scott remembers working events in Tisdale, Saskatchewan, and helping show Jesse how two fighters can work a bull together “during his virgin trips of fighting bulls.”
Just as Ryan made history in the U.S., so too did Jesse when he became the first Canadian bullfighter to work a PBR World Finals event. Scott, who was a mentor of sorts, and his wife Raegan, on the other hand, had two sons – Brayden and Dylan – and a full schedule of events starting with Touring Pro Division events in the eastern provinces and then work his way west to the summer rodeo events and then, in the fall, “roll back into the PBR’s again.”
Later this year, provided he gets the votes, as expected, his final event will be the Canadian PBR Finals.
“That would be the ultimate,” Scott said.
“Hopefully all three of the boys can get in there for Scott,” said Ryan, of his own three sons – Bo, Jesse and Tanner – who hope to be there. “It would be nice to see that. It would be a great memory anyway.
“I talked to him last year and he thought about it,” Ryan continued, “and I said, ‘Well, if you’re thinking about it, it’s kind of creeping on you,’ but, I said, ‘As far as I see in you, you’re not slowing down.’ Right now I think he could go on for another three or four years, but he has a family that’s getting old enough now that they want to do things and he has an opportunity to go work with Wrangler.”
© 2015 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.