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‘Come and meet us’

A New Zealand-born television celebrity who is making a living catching rogue bulls in Australia’s Northern Territory won the barrel racing section, and took over the No. 1 spot in the race for the nationals at the Te Mania Angus Canterbury rodeo recently.

Liz Cook competed at the Mandeville Sports Ground on her Australian-bred horse, Mate, who was able to come with her to New Zealand while she was visiting her parents. The barrel racing is an event where horse and rider attempt to run a cloverleaf pattern around barrels in the quickest time.  

The pair stopped the clock at a swift 17.589 seconds – taking home the day’s title trophy buckle, and assuming the top spot in the national standings as the focus starts to sharpen in the end-of-season titles at Taupo in April. 

Living 1000km from civilisation

Liz and her husband, Willie, live 1000km from Darwin, leasing a 325,000-hectare (800,000-acre) property. They are also the co-stars of the ABC reality television show “Outback Ringer”, which routinely leaves viewers with their hearts in their mouths. https://www.facebook.com/ABCTV/posts/10164055598765543

The reality show follows the Cooks’ remote lifestyle, pulling no punches about the dangers they face every day. Liz is upfront when she describes it as “the wild west”. But equally, she thrives on the rush from catching feral bulls. 

Their world now feels a lifetime away from farming Merino sheep in Cromwell’s high country. But they were up for the Australian challenge when low wool prices were followed by a dairy grazier – who failed to pay them – pushed their entire family to re-consider its options. 

For three years they lived in their generator-powered gooseneck in outback Queensland, often dining on beef and rice because the nearest supermarket was 650km away. Liz says her Australian experience has given her greater resilience – and more than a bit of gratitude that she is a qualified registered nurse, particularly with their two sons, Charlie, 10, and Blake, 7, in mind, considering the property had no homestead and no fences when they arrived. They have since fenced 120km of it.

“It’s a new way of thinking if your car breaks down out there, for example,” Liz said. “In New Zealand, you’d usually ring the AA. But in the Northern Territory, there’s no-one there, so you’ve got to give it a go to fix it yourself. You have no other option.

“It’s the same with the vet. There is no vet for 650km. I’ve had three horses choke, and I’ve had to tube them, and I’ve been thinking, ‘I’m so unqualified to do this’, but the horses would have died if I didn’t. 

“So, you just have to get on and do it. It’s the same if I have to stitch up one of the working dogs if we’ve been pig hunting. You just have to have a crack yourself, and see if you can work it out.

“So, I don’t take any days for granted anymore. 

“Because we live so remotely, if there is something going, I’ll put my hand up and give it a go. Because I don’t know when I’ll get another opportunity.”

Not easily scared

Needless to say, if Liz can take on feral bulls and handle living where the majority of the most dangerous or venomous animals, reptiles or insects also reside, she has the chops to live anywhere. 

Her love of agriculture is part of the reason she agreed to the filming of the ABC’s “Outback Ringer”.

“When we said we’d do the programme, I felt that agriculture was getting a bad rap and that’s the thing I wanted to change,” Liz said.

“Rodeo people are in rodeo because they love their animals. We love our horses, we love the cattle. That’s why we’re here, that’s why we do it, and that’s why we live in the country. We don’t live in cities, because we want to be with the animals.”

‘I know I go on about my horse’

Liz had to stop herself talking up her 15-year-old gelding, Mate. She said the $5000 airfare to New Zealand so that Mate could travel with her was worth every cent. She will happily cough up another $5000 to take him back to Australia when she returns home.

“Mate’s like one of the family, he’s my little brother. I couldn’t leave him for too long,” Liz said. “Everything he gives a go, he just tries so hard. When I have a scrub bull charging at us out of the mob, he’s strong enough to hold and quietly push it back into the mob. And yet my kids ride him. He’s pretty exceptional.” 

She smiled: “I try not to go on about him too much … because I know that I do!”

Liz said she was thrilled with his performance in an event that favours nimble and explosive horses. 

“Every ride on him is a treat and epic, and I always just think, ‘this is so awesome’. I think it’s because his heart is so big. I just ask him to run for me, and he says, ‘yeah, no worries’. 

“I don’t know how to express that any better, that immense feeling of love I have for him, and how he gives everything he has … every time. Really, it doesn’t matter what times come up on the board. It’s just the fact that he goes out there, and gives it his all. That’s all that matters to me.”

Mate has competed in Australia at the Mount Isa Rotary Rodeo; this Queensland rodeo is the biggest and richest in the southern hemisphere. He made the top 10, but Liz said it was hard to be competitive because Mate works on the farm every day, and it’s not easy to attend rodeos regularly because of the distances involved.

Nationals now on the radar

Liz is now on the road to three more rodeos across the North Island over the next 10 days. 

She wasn’t initially sure she would have time to stay in New Zealand for the nationals at Taupo. But with Mate now running so hot, her plans to see out the season appear to be a better than even chance.

“When I first brought Mate over, I had no idea where he would stand. I guess everyone has their day. But now I think we’ll keep hunting for that national title. 

“The wonderful part about New Zealand rodeo is that I’m travelling with my strongest competition. We’re hanging out together, we’re mates, and we’re competing. 

“People in New Zealand want to compete with the best person on their best horse, with the horse running at their best, so they know that if they win … they are the best. 

“That’s why this is such an awesome sport to be involved in.”

For the rest of last weekend’s results, head on over to FB under “nz rodeo cowboys” or click here https://www.facebook.com/NZRodeo/posts/2564939907138465

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