Dowling broadens horizons but rodeo still rules

Ross Dowling rides out the final few seconds to beat the buzzer at the Wanaka Rodeo in January. ...
Ross Dowling rides out the final few seconds to beat the buzzer at the Wanaka Rodeo in January. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON

Ross Dowling has come a long way from his mutton-busting days.

Since riding sheep at rodeos as a child, the 29-year-old has travelled the world, and competed with considerable success.

"I've been everywhere,'' Mr Dowling said succinctly.

In 2005, Mr Dowling - who hails from Hyde - was named South Island young cowboy of the year while still a pupil at St Kevin's College in Oamaru.

Since then, life has been both busy and varied. He completed a commerce degree at university, managed a vast cropping farm in Australia, lived in Canada and the United States, played rugby in Thailand, and competed on the professional rodeo circuit in the US.

Competing on the pro-circuit was "awesome'' and "unreal''; the biggest crowd that he rode in front of was about 35,000 people.

He was also a "turd wrangler'', working on the oil fields in Canada, although his official title was supposedly field technician, and it then turned into a more electrical role, working in temperatures of about -40degC.

Ross Dowling: "It isn't for the [prize-winner's] buckles and all of that. It's a lifestyle and a...
Ross Dowling: "It isn't for the [prize-winner's] buckles and all of that. It's a lifestyle and a way of life."

Returning from the US for his brother's wedding and having to have knee surgery from a rugby accident meant he would miss the start of the next pro-circuit, so he decided to take a year off that, get fit and healthy and save some money.

He was approached by a friend at Westpac to see if he was interested in a fixed-term role with the bank, and then thought halfway through that, he supposed he should grow up.

Luckily enough, after six months as a financial analyst, he morphed into the bank's agri-manager for Otago.

It was good fun, and also quite stressful - "I was going grey too fast,'' he laughs.

Now he is lower North Island territory manager for Zee Tags, which supplies the agricultural sector with identification tags, applicators and microchips. It was an innovative company and he saw a good future with it, he said.

Mr Dowling's job covered close to two-thirds of the North Island.

It had been good to broaden his horizons, the land up there was "ridiculous'' - so many big farms - and it was "pretty cool'' to get out of his comfort zone.

Rodeo was a passion for Mr Dowling and it was so much more than a desire to win, he explained.

The death of a good friend to suicide had really shaken the rodeo community up and widened their eyes as to why they did rodeo.

"It isn't for the [prize-winner's] buckles and all of that. It's a lifestyle and way of life,'' he said.

So when it came to the age-old questions as to why parents should let their offspring grow up to be cowboys, there were valuable lessons to be learnt from an involvement in the sport.

"You learn a bloody nose ... isn't going to kill you and that hard work is earned, not expected. You've got to put the hard yards in and practise and that family and friends are everything,'' he said.

Mr Dowling admitted he had goosebumps watching two young brothers fighting it out in the calf riding at this season's Waikato rodeo.

When the eventual victor beat his brother, he walked back to his sibling, who was standing at the chute, and they gave each other "the biggest hugs''.

"It's about these sorts of things,'' he said.

Rodeo enthusiasts travelled the country doing something they loved and they came from all walks of life - osteopaths, bank managers, agronomists, builders, volunteer firefighters, social workers and foster parents to name but a few.

It was a quintessential summer thing; some Kiwis went on holiday to the beach or the lakes for a week.

Mr Dowling and his mates went on the rodeo circuit, effectively turning into gypsies, travelling around the country, swimming in various rivers and lakes along the way, and getting to hang out with all their friends.

Mr Dowling qualified for the national rodeo finals in Wanaka and he loved the finals there. He had a good reputation and had won a lot there.

His best day this season was at last month's Waikato rodeo, where he won the bareback and saddle bronc events and teamed up with Klay Ward to win the team roping.

Unofficially, he had been told that only one other person in New Zealand had managed to achieve that - Southland cowboy Anthony Perkins who also achieved a trifecta this year.

With a cheque of more than $1800 for "25 seconds' work'', it was not a bad effort, he said.

When it came to rodeo highlights, one of his biggest was competing on the pro-rodeo circuit in the US.

Another was seeing young competitors he had helped moving up through the ranks and doing well. That was "pretty cool'' to see. Klay Ward, with whom he paired up at Waikato, was still at secondary school.

Mr Dowling has been selected to compete in the bareback event in an invitational rodeo at the Sydney Royal Easter Show.

He has been there twice previously, the last as captain, and he was looking forward to it.

He reckoned he still had a few years riding roughstock - the day he would call time would be the day he thought he could not ride a horse - and that could be at the start of the season or in the middle.

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