At a time when many parents are concerned about school contact sport, boys from a Queensland school are riding bulls every week to improve their rodeo skills.
- Boarders say bull riding helps cope with homesickness
- They say bull riding teaches skills they need for life on the land
- Safety is a key component of the sport
St Brendan’s College, at Yeppoon, is offering the sport as an extracurricular activity for students aged 12 to 17.
While bull riding may be known as an extreme sport, the Australian Professional Rodeo Association (APRA) said the sport embodied the traditions of the Australian outback and had a strong link to the everyday skills of working stockmen and drovers.
St Brendan’s College said it was important to offer a strong agricultural program, as it was a school with students from across central Queensland.
Rodeo Club coordinator Bill Oram competed in the first St Brendan’s rodeo as a student in 1978, before the club was established.
Mr Oram said the boys’ high school had offered the club to students for more than 20 years.
“We promote the rodeo club as a real outlet, particularly for kids from the bush because it’s often their sport,” he said.
“We actually find kids coming to St Brendan’s specifically because we have a rodeo club.”
The school transports the team 45 minutes to Rockhampton, for practice every Wednesday night.
“We try to get all our cowboys to any of the Great Western rodeos, which are once a month or some of the other local rodeos in Jambin, Mount Morgan, those sorts of places,” Mr Oram said.
“I get a lot of pleasure out of taking these boys around to rodeos and watching them grow up to become good young men, as well as good cowboys.”
St Brendan’s Rodeo Club student Jake Winston rides in the annual SBC Rodeo held at the college in September each year. (Supplied: St Brendan’s College)
APRA board member Leanne Caban said the school was well known for rodeo.
“St Brendan’s is quite unique because they have their own rodeo team,” she said.
“Former students that have gone to St Brendan’s have actually gone to America and competed on college teams over there.
“Getting that start as a team at St Brendan’s is a great opportunity.”
Ms Caban said competing in the sport was beneficial for students.
“Apart from the skills on hand and eye coordination and, of course, balance … knowing how to read cattle and livestock, they’re very important skills in the rural sector,” she said.
“It’s a sport that they can go on to do once they’re out of junior ranks and also being able to compete against their friends, sportsmanship is very important.
“Myself, my husband and our two kids, we compete as a family together, so it’s also a great family sport.”
11 St Brendan’s College students involved in the Rodeo Club, which is offered as school sport. (Supplied: St Brendan’s College)
How does rodeo work?
Year 11 student Phillip Sheehan has competed in rodeos around central Queensland for more than two years.
“It’s just fun and I got a passion for it, love the adrenaline rush, yeah it’s a good sport to be in,” he said.
“You gotta ride your bull for eight seconds … you get your rider’s score and then you get your bull’s score.
“The higher your bull bucks, the more sort of aggression and stuff it has, higher kicks, turn backs … it gets scored on that.
“Then you get your rider’s, your style … ride time and the moves you make.
“The neater you make it look, the better score you get.”
Moura cowboy Luke Steel said riding a bull was a mind game.
“You can’t psych yourself out, get your head in the zone, put your hand on that rope as quickly as you can and get out, just go with the flow and do what you need to do,” he said.
“[I] get a bit scared every now and then, but make a good ride and it feels pretty good.”
Safety not a major issue for parents
Biloela mother Tania Bode often travels almost four hours to watch her son Ben practise and compete in Rockhampton.
“We decided we were going to send him away in grade 10 so looking at St Brendan’s and his love of riding bulls and steers, it was sort of a bit of inspiration to send him there,” she said.
Ms Bode said she was not too worried about her son competing in the sport.
“I think they’ve got the protective gear on and that’s sort of what gives me a little bit of peace of mind,” she said.
“The rodeo protective guys, you sort of put your faith in them.
“At the moment just starting out they’re not on really bad bulls or rank bulls, so that’s a little bit easier to watch as well.
“Maybe as they get older and start riding bigger bulls I’ll be a bit more worried.”
SBC Rodeo Club captain Logan Beak competed in New Zealand for the Australian High School Rodeo Team in January 2019.
“It’s a bit of a dangerous sport, you do get a bit scared but you get over it,” he said.
“When you make a ride you get a fair bit of adrenaline rush going through you and you feel pretty good after that.”
Ms Caban said the APRA took safety seriously.
“We have a lot of rules in place that help protect the rider, especially the juniors,” she said.
“… juniors wear their safety gear and even the open guys wear helmets and vests to protect themselves,” she said.
“Being young as a junior and having those rules in place, it just carries through for them when they’re older, they know it’s to protect them.”
From left, Finn Crinion, Jackson Gray and Logan Beak sporting their St Brendan’s Rodeo Club gear. (Supplied: St Brendan’s College )
Balancing schoolwork and bull riding
Phillip Sheehan said schoolwork and bull riding were no problem for him.
“It’s a full-time thing really, if you want to be good at it but you just sort of do work where you can,” he said.
“Being a boarder, you have time for study and you have time to do things like that, so you just fit it in your free time.
He said the sport was in his blood.
“It’s just sort of a part of me now, couldn’t really imagine [if I] stop doing it, doesn’t seem right,” Mr Sheehan said.
“The mateship you get from it, even though it’s just you on the bull you got a whole team of your mates helping you on.”
APRA board member Leanne Caban said more younger bull riders were joining the sport each year.
“It’s growing all the time, over the past six or seven years we’ve focused a lot on creating more events for our juniors, giving them more opportunities,” she said.