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Couple’s love of rodeo the first chapter in their own love story

Niki Flundra acknowledges the crowd’s applause as she and her three horses perform on opening night of the Snake River Stampede on Tuesday at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa.
Niki Flundra acknowledges the crowd’s applause as she and her three horses perform on opening night of the Snake River Stampede on Tuesday at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa. doswald@idahostatesman.com

Just about every professional cowboy and cowgirl share a love and appreciation for horses.

But for Canadian couple Dustin and Niki Flundra, horsemanship goes beyond enjoyment, competition or even vocation. The two rodeo pros have built their careers, their family and their entire way of life around their love of horses. Whether they are working cattle on their ranch or traveling the competitive circuit, their feet are never far from the stirrups.

“Horses have gotten us both where we are today, and horses have made us who we are,” Dustin said. “Niki and I both have such a strong appreciation for good horses and fine horsemanship.”

The Flundras are originally from Alberta, Canada, where they first met during high school rodeo. In the years since, Dustin has become a champion saddle bronc rider. Niki is renowned across North America for her “Unbridled” liberty routine, where she rides and guides three horses without the use of a saddle or bridle.

Both Flundras are in Nampa this week for the Snake River Stampede. Dustin posted a 79-point saddle bronc ride during Tuesday’s opening round, while Niki is performing “Unbridled” every night. She also presents the flag during nightly performances of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

The couple’s schedules don’t always overlap, but in the travel-heavy world of pro rodeo, they cherish the family time they get to spend together.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Niki said. “A lot of people probably wouldn’t understand the crazy lifestyle that we live, but we’re fortunate that we can support each other and both do what we love.”

Dustin and Niki’s shared love of horses was the first chapter in their own love story. Dustin proposed “on one knee, in the pasture, with her horses sitting there looking at me.”

They now have two young boys, Ridge and Shade, who often accompany mom and dad on the rodeo circuit.

“Rodeo is what brought us together, and rodeo is still what we do together,” Dustin said.

Niki spent 18 years as a professional trick rider, but her “Unbridled” act requires even more dedication. Liberty training is based on trust, verbal communication and body language, and it requires countless hours of practice with horses Zyada, Stetson and Ace.

After years of training, the level of trust between Flundra and her horses is second-to-none.

“It’s an artful form of horsemanship,” Niki said. “It’s very challenging, but I love it. I’m very fortunate to have the horses I have.”

Niki’s act is a six-time Canadian Professional Rodeo Association Act of the Year, and she’s also performed six times at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. In addition to “Unbridled,” Niki and her horses have performed in movies and TV shows, including “Shanghai Noon,” “Into the West,” “Hell on Wheels,” “Heartland” and “Zoo.”

“She’s first-class, and she brings the best to everything she does,” Dustin said. “She wants to put on the very best show that she can every single night, and I think it shows.”

Specialty rodeo acts. Professional competitions. Herding cattle. Big screen stunt work. No matter where they are, Dustin and Niki Flundra are never far from their horses.

They wouldn’t have it any other way.

Competition Highlight

Top-ranked bareback bronc rider Tim O’Connell made the best of his second chance Wednesday night, posting an 87-point ride to move atop the standings.

O’Connell’s first ride aboard Sage Brush wouldn’t have put him in Saturday’s championship round, but the judges awarded him a re-ride. The current world No. 1 made it count, riding Baby Face to a big-time score that gives him a chance to add to his leading money total Saturday.