Western Ranch Rodeo Australia begins training women to ride in international saddle bronc competitions

Every time ringer Emily Howkins jumps on a bucking bronc, she prepares for the fight of her life.

While the Emerald resident didn’t grow up riding horses, she has found a passion for the rough stock rodeo ring.

After riding at an event in Gatton and later submitting videos of winning rides, the 28-year-old has received an invitation to compete in saddle bronc riding at the women’s world final competition in Wyoming next year, an event organised by the Texas Bronc Riders Association.

“I never really had a chance to ride horses, but I started riding racehorses and mustering and I kept getting bucked off,” Ms Howkins says.

“I just thought, ‘I’ve got to go to some of these schools and work out how these cowboys stay on these things’.”

Ahead of competing against the world’s best, she is honing her skills with the newly formed Western Ranch Rodeo Australia, a group in Queensland’s Central Highlands dedicated to training women riders to help them break into the male-dominated sport.

A woman on a horse which is bucking in an arena.
Emily Howkins won the last two ladies jackpots the group has held in Capella and Emerald.(ABC Capricornia: Jasmine Hines)

Riding broncs is, “like an explosion that you’re trying to control. It’s pretty violent,” she says.

“You compete against yourself and the horse, but you want to win and you want to ride well, but you just want your mates to go real well too.

“Your fight is against you and your horse.”

More women interested

There is growing interest in the American-style sport in Australia, but a lack of training opportunities prompted Cameron Eiser to take the reins of the new group.

“I’ve ridden a lot in the saddles and seen an opportunity to try to help the girls who want to get to the [United] States,” Mr Eiser says.

“We just put on a practice day and built from there.

A man in a red shirt, with a mustache and large hat.
Cameron Eiser co-founded Western Ranch Rodeo Australia with Jacqui Flohr.(ABC Capricornia: Jasmine Hines)

In saddle bronc riding, every second counts.

To qualify, competitors must stay on their horse for eight seconds and hold on with either one or both hands.

If they lose their grip, it’s over.

“If a horse bucks really well and a girl tries really hard, they’re going to get a higher score than a medium-range horse and rider,” Mr Eiser says.

“The rules are it’s got to be a strictly working ranch saddle, so an everyday saddle not tinkered with too much.”

Ms Howkins says up until recently, women were not encouraged to succeed in the sport.

A woman on a bucking bronco, with a man watching her on his own horse
Emily Howkins says she often feels “on a high” after riding.(Supplied: Angela Bulger)

“If you got to a men’s saddle bronc school, afterwards the boys will get support.

“[There’s] a lot of ‘well, when’s the next rodeo?’

“But when you’re a girl, they kind of are like, ‘well you had a turn, you had a try, you did OK. That’s enough now’.

“[Before] you had to either try to ask a saddle bronc rider or email someone in America, and these [Western Ranch Rodeo Australia] fellas being here now is real good. It helps a lot.”

Far away dreams

Brisbane’s self-described “concrete cowgirl” Emily Collits also dreams of competing in the US.

“I want to eventually make it over to the [United] States and show the fellas that we’re to be taken seriously and the Aussie girls can ride just as well as the ones over there,” the 24-year-old says.

A woman wearing a helmet sits on a horse in a metal pen.
Emily Collits prepares in the chute before a ride.(ABC Capricornia: Jasmine Hines)

“But I reckon give it a go. You’ll find out there’s a really good community of girls in there and they’ll support you.”

The group currently runs practice days and jackpots, and is building up to full rodeos with roping events next year.

Mr Eiser says while the US-style events had not drawn huge crowds yet, they were designed to give the women a hint of what it is like to compete on the world’s biggest stage with some of the best in the business.

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