Two trailblazing Queensland women have made history at world-renowned rodeo events in the United States that have traditionally excluded women.
Rockhampton bronc rider Jaime-Lee Mant and Normanton’s Emily Collits joined 10 other women from the US and Canada to show the world what they’re made of on the American rodeo circuit.
“If you look at rodeos and if you even say ‘rodeo’ to anyone, what do you think of?” Collits said.
“It’s a cowboy.
“You don’t think of a cowgirl getting in there behind the chutes, saddling her horse off, jumping on and getting bucked off.”
The daring sport of roughstock bronc riding is one of the toughest and most dangerous events on the rodeo circuit and the women are using their success overseas to push for greater women’s participation in the sport on home soil.
The aim is simple: try not to get bucked off a horse that’s doing its darnedest to kick you off.
But holding on tight for eight seconds would seem like a lifetime to amateurs.
“The experience of riding a bronc is like riding fire,” Collits said.
“I get bucked off more times than I ride time — it’s a mental and physical challenge within yourself.”
Making rodeo history
High caliber events in the US are invitational and riders must provide their skill and commitment to be able to participate.
“It’s like getting the golden ticket at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory,” Collits said.
Collits made the most of her opportunity, traveling thousands of kilometers to tour nine events through four states.
It paid off when she took first place at Douglas, Wyoming and third place at Durango, Colorado.
“I didn’t have many expectations coming into it,” Collits said.
“I wanted to ride time on a few of these big strong American horses.
“I’ve exceeded those dreams.”
It’s the first time these American rodeos have opened their chutes to female participants from Australia.
The event all the competitors had their eyes on was the prized Cheyenne Frontier Days — one of the biggest, oldest and longest running rodeos in the world.
Keep won third place.
“It was pretty cool to be able to walk out from underneath the grandstand and have 21,000 people stare at you and cheer you on, and the roar of the crowd is pretty cool,” she said.
“As I walked up on the back of the chutes there, I just kind of looked out and I had a … moment of like, ‘Holy dooly, I’m really here,'” she said.
“My dreams are coming true.”
To wrap the tour up the women put on a non-competitive showcase at a rodeo in Deadwood, Colorado.
The rodeo hasn’t seen a women’s roughstock event in more than 80 years and the riders hope it sets the bar for future events.
“In the future it’ll hopefully mean we can add this as another stop on our tours while we’re over here in the States,” Collits said.
Women’s bronze riding ‘frowned upon’
Appetite for the rough-riding sport is on the rise in Australia, but there are still hurdles to overcome.
Mant said there was a lot to be learned about women’s saddle requirements, horse and training needs to grow the sport back home.
“For us girls, we don’t really get many opportunities over here in the way the American girls do,” she said.
“I just thought if an Australian girl could come home with a win or a place, it may open Australia’s eyes a bit more to it.
“I really want it to be something big in Australia — it’s getting there, but very, very slowly.”
Blackall Trainer Cam Eiser hosts training schools where Collits and other outback women attend.
“It seemed to be – when we started – pretty well frowned upon, letting girls ride bucking horses and we copped a fair bit of [flak] over it,” he said.
“I just saw an opportunity to help girls go ahead and compete [in the US] and get them schooled up safely, without any injury.”
The founder of the Women’s Ranch Bronc Championships in Texas, Daryl McElroy, worked with central Queensland trainer Ken Reid to organize this year’s tour.
“We need to put them on the stage and let them show their talents to the world,” McElroy said.
“We get emails and we get messages from all over the world and I’m just amazed by it.”
‘fingers over their eyes’
From a young age, horseriding became an obsession for Collits, who grew up on the Gold Coast.
“My parents both live just outside of the city and I don’t think they in a million years imagined their little girl getting on horses that want to buck her off,” she said.
“But it doesn’t matter what I do, they’re always going to be in my corner supporting me as best they can — even if it’s with their fingers over their eyes.”
Mant said her parents also worried she would hurt herself, but trusted her now because of her rigorous training over the years.
“My mum, she thinks it’s cool and she’s very supportive of me,” Mant said.
“But she thinks I’m a bit crazy doing it.”