Martinborough's Pukemanu Bullride on Friday evening saw its biggest turnout yet, despite a protest against rodeos outside the event.

One of the Pukemanu Bullride organisers, New Zealand Rodeo Cowboys Association secretary Shane Bird, said it was an "awesome" night with a "massive crowd".

"They were rowdy and they loved it."

Mr Bird said about 1800 people had attended the event, which was being held for its third year running at the Martinborough Transport Yard on Lake Ferry Rd.

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Paddy Church, from Turangi, won the open division and Hemi Collier, from Rotorua, won the second division, Mr Bird said.

"The bulls were great, the riders were good. The local riders rode well and we'll be back next year."

Nearly 20 animal rights activists with banners and placards had used the event to take a stand against rodeos in a silent protest.

"They didn't cause any trouble," Mr Bird said.

"The protesters who were there to try and deter people from going failed because we had more people than ever before."

Wellington Animal Rights Network spokeswoman Hannah Lessells, from South Wairarapa, was one of the protest organisers.

"We were not there to intimidate, just to get the message across."

She said the protesters had come from Wairarapa, Wellington and the Kapiti Coast.

"There was no aggro. The organiser came out and spoke to us and he was really polite."

Miss Lessells said she had been approached by some people attending the bullride event who had asked her about the sport.

"There was just a couple attending asking what we thought and why we thought it was cruel," she said.

"They didn't know anything about rodeo and they obviously went in to make their own minds up."

People had "stuck their fingers up" at protesters while driving past, but that behaviour was to be expected, Miss Lessells said.

"Two or three" bullride spectators were "throwing stones and compressed dirt" at the protesters as they made their way back to their cars.

Friday's protest follows other demonstrations around New Zealand calling for a nationwide ban on rodeos, which are already banned in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and banned or restricted in parts of North America and Europe.