Rodeo: Kiwi cowboys hit the road

By Greg Taipari

American cowboys of the Wild West were famous for hitching their wagon and travelling vast kilometres to find adventure.

The same could be said about the modern New Zealand cowboy - the only difference these days, is the type of horsepower used to move their wagons, or should I say trucks.

Go to any rodeo in New Zealand and the first thing you notice are the vast amount of trucks scattered around the venue, they are horse floats come mobile homes for the Kiwi cowboy.

Rerewhakaaitu whanau, Charlie and Dolly Halley are one of thousands of cow folks who - participate in the rodeo season between December and April. They pack up their family (eight in total; two daughters, three granddaughters and a family friend) and hit the rodeo circuit.

When The Daily Post caught up with Charlie and Dolly, the fun loving whanau were sitting in their fold-out chairs, set up outside their Nissan truck or as Charlie describes it their, "marae on wheels", the kids are in and out of the truck they will call home for the next week, either eating or getting ready for their rodeo events.

When I call in there are four horses hitched to the side of the truck but they're so close to the fold-out chairs, their tails would often flick you in the face. Dolly simply smiles and says: "Don't worry they won't kick," and Charlie gives the horses a whistle to get them to move away.

It's easy to see Charlie and Dolly are popular with their fellow rodeo fraternity, because every two seconds there would be someone shouting out a hearty hello to either of them.

In the past four days, the whanau have been in Gisborne Opotiki, Taupo and Rerewhakaaitu. But that's only a part of the trip.After yesterday's rodeo in Rerewhakaaitu, they were packing up and heading up north for the Warkworth, Kaitaia and Oruru Valley rodeos. In total the family will travel more than 1860km in a week.

Dolly, who during the off season is a manager for Farmlands, says the travelling has never been a problem for them because there is something special about rodeo.

"It was a good way for the kids to see the country. But for us it's [rodeo] all about the people for us. It wasn't as big as what it is now. It was Merv and Sue Church, they welcomed us into it, like we'd known them for years and so it made it really comfortable for us and easy especially for our kids."

Charlie who is a sheep and beef farmer in Rerewhakaaitu said as a child he always dreamed about being a cowboy but it was through helping a friend out 15 years ago his dream was realised.

"A mate of ours back in Gisborne lost her partner, Boy Atkins, and she had no one to drive her truck. So I drove it and then the girls wanted to barrel race and we were going down the road anyway and Dolly chucked a horse in and we just started."

Although success on the circuit can be measured by a big shiny belt buckle or maybe a new saddle and cash awarded to the winner - for Charlie and Dolly it's about whangaungatanga [kinship] with their whanau and the friends they make on the circuit.

"Everybody helps everybody out. It's not this me-and-them sort of thing. If somebody is short of a horse somebody will give a horse, or if one of the cowboys has broken down on the road, everybody helps out, we will chuck the horses on and get them to the next rodeo. That's what it is all about," Charlie said.

Although both Charlie and Dolly still enjoy competing at the events, the pair say it is focusing on their children who compete.

Their daughter, 26-year-old Kiwa Halley, was the first female to win a roping title and she is currently one of the top barrel riders as well.

Charlie, a Ngati Porou descendant, said the rodeo had become ingrained into his family and it was important to help share the rodeo experience with those who came to watch all the action.

"I tell the public not to be shy to come and see us because [when] I'm in the arena riding along by the fence, all the kids want to come a long and pat your horse and they say 'can I have a ride?' I always say yeah, because there's a little bit of cowboy in everybody."

Dolly, a Ngati Kahungunu/Whakatohea descendant, said as a mother she was always concerned about safety especially in a sport involving high speed and potential impacts.

"Our kids do need to wear helmets [when riding] and they don't even think about going anywhere near houses without dragging their helmets with them."

Both parents said there were strict guidelines within the rodeo association which govern what safety equipment is used during competition.

"There is a danger element [in rodeo] but you could hurt yourself walking across the street. Most sports do have a bit of a danger angle to them, but it's about being smart and using the right equipment," Charlie said.

Another factor for both parents was the health and well-being of the animals on the rodeo circuit.

"There are a lot of doubters out there [against rodeo]. But it's in our best interest that the animals are looked after and kept in great condition.

"When we are in the arena for ourselves we present our horses immaculately so people want to have a horse like ours."

The rodeo season ends in early autumn with the Egmont-Wanganui National Finals Rodeo at Manfield Park on April 5 and 6.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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