When Mike Short entered the 2009 Fieldays Rural Bachelor competition, he never dreamed his life would change so dramatically.

Fast forward four years and the Golden Gumboot winner was sitting on hay bales having his wedding photos taken with his new wife Ryley, who he first met at Fieldays.

The Fieldays Rural Bachelor of the Year competition invited single rural men to compete in a series of skill-based challenges during New Zealand Agricultural Fieldays.

Eight selected contestants would receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Mystery Creek to tests their skills to find the most eligible farmer in the country.

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Based in Feilding in the Manawatu, a trip to Mystery Creek near Hamilton seemed far away.

"I heard an ad on the radio a few times one day, probably while I was out feeding the calves, and thought I'd have a week off the farm and see what happens," says Mike, who was then aged 26. The eight contestants went through four gruelling days of competition.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Mike's wife-to-be, Ryley McGougan, then aged 22, was working for Mystery Creek as an events coordinator for the VIP function centre.

In between heats Ryley and Mike managed time for a few brief conversations.

On the final day of Fieldays Mike was awarded the title of 2009 Fieldays Rural Bachelor of the Year and the coveted Golden Gumboot.

Shortly after winning the title, Mike told reporters he had no idea what his ideal woman would be like and would "just have to wait until I meet the one". He returned to Feilding, not realising he'd already met her.

A year later the two met again at the 2010 Fieldays event. As reigning Golden Gumboot champion, Mike, still a bachelor, was invited back to judge the 2010 Fieldays Rural Bachelor competition. Ryley, also recently single, was again working for Mystery Creek coordinating events.

On the first morning of Fieldays she was stationed at a busy ticket booth when Mike arrived, and asked to see the event manager. He looked different from the year before.
"I'd had a year away, a haircut, spruced myself up a bit," says Mike.

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Ryley ran into the office, slammed the door behind her and announced to her Fieldays colleagues, "I've just met my future husband."

Over the four-day event the two enjoyed getting to know each other and on Saturday, they had time for their first official date, strolling through the Fieldays site.

Four years later the two were married at Ryley's parents' dairy farm in Gordonton.

The Shorts are now farming west of Feilding on their 105ha, 200-cow dairy farm. They have two children, Laney, 3, and Hudson, 1.

This June, for the 50th anniversary of Fieldays, the Short family will be at Mystery Creek as VIP guests.

Mike says he is looking forward to checking out the Fieldays Rural Catch competition — renamed, and this year includes both female and male contestants.

* Mike and Ryley's story is available in the new documentary box-set Fieldays Stories, created by TVNZ Blacksand and available on TVNZ OnDemand.