Rodeo is literally a religion for the Church family and its latest championship disciple Rex is out to emulate his late older brother Dion and father Merv.
Otorohanga's Rex Church claimed the all-round champion cowboy title for the fifth time at Manfeild Park a fortnight ago during the final round of the national competition hosted this year by the Egmont-Wanganui Rodeo Association.
For decades, the Church family has dominated virtually all categories of the rough-and-tumble sport and while Rex had claimed his fifth all-round title, he still has a fair way to go to achieve the results of father and brother who amassed 15 national titles apiece.
At most of the more than 20 point-gathering rodeos held throughout New Zealand each year, it's a safe bet more than 30 Churches will be registered over all categories at each meeting.
While Church dominated this season, a young up-and-comer, Ben Webb from Ohakune, won the 2012-2013 bareback Rookie of the Year title.
The former Wanganui High School student is no stranger to rodeo. At age 14 in 2004, Webb represented New Zealand in a transtasman interschool steer riding competition just a week after sustaining a niggling achilles tendon injury during an athletics competition.
He was also the then New Zealand calf-riding champion.
Eleven years later at Manfeild Park, the youngster took out the rookie title and was ranked 10th in the all-round open cowboy standings. His favoured discipline is bull-riding. Egmont-Wanganui Rodeo Association secretary Lyn Hoskyn said this year's final at Manfeild Park proved a huge success, with well over 3000 spectators filling the grounds.
Fellow committee man and former world champion saddle bronc rider Evan Rayner said it was arguably the best rodeo in New Zealand. "As far as spectators and professionalism go, I would say this was the best ever and we couldn't have done without the support of the Manawatu A & P Show that has come on board in recent times," Rayner said.
Rayner claimed his world title in Australia in 1967 against all-comers from Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
"In our day we travelled, rode and then partied up, but you can't really get away with that these days if you are serious about winning a national title," he said.
"The level of professionalism and skill of these cowboys is extremely high. It takes guts and skill to get on these animals. The bulls and horses are huge with incredible power when they buck. I take my hat off to the likes of the Church family, including Rex, and young Ben Webb - they are talented cowboys," Rayner said.
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