When fame and fortune are eight seconds and a big bucking bull away​


Professional bull rider Jason O’Hearn was thrown to the ground by bucking bull Akubra High Flyer in about four seconds early last week.

So most people would probably have forgiven him if he had cursed when he drew the same bull for the final round of the Sydney Royal Rodeo Series, The Federation Challenge, on Thursday night.

Not O’Hearn. He wanted to get back on Akubra – the current reigning n bucking bull champion – toshow who was in control.

“He got one up on me and threw me off, and I wanted to get one back,” the cowboy said of the final round at this year’sSydney Royal Easter Show.

Bull rider Jason O’Hearn won the final round of the 2018 Sydney Royal Rodeo Series, The Federation Challenge at The Sydney Royal Easter Show. Photo: Kate Geraghty

O’Hearn was the only cowboy in the finals to last the full eight seconds, scoring 91 points out of 100. The ride won him $10,000, taking his winnings for the week’s competition to $14,000.

At 38, the Tamworth resident knows bull riding is a young man’s sport. He took it up at 16, and then gave it up for a few years after a bull called Hot Stuff trampled on his head at the ProfessionalBull RidersWorld Finals in Las Vegas in 2011.

“I woke up a few days later and I didn’t know whether I would ride again.”

O’Hearn is the perfect cowboy, very “old school” with good manners, making him an ideal ambassador for the booming sport, said Eddie Gill, whose family has been in circus, rough riding and rodeo since the 1940s.

O’Hearn’s winning ride on Akubra was a “perfect storm”, said Mr Gill of Gill and Bros. Based in Upper Horton, north of Tamworth, his family breeds and supplies rodeo animals.His property has 300 horses, 200 bulls and cows, used in as many as four to five rodeos a weekend in peak season.

The perfect cowboy. Photo: Kate Geraghty

“Once a cowboy gets on a bull or a horse, everything is unpredictableand anything can happen,” Mr Gill said.

The rodeo series included four pro rodeo events: bareback bronco, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding and, what was called the “ultimate event, man vs beast”, bull riding.

These days, rodeo animals are as carefully bred for what they do as racehorses are reared for the Melbourne Cup.

Where most people breed quieter horses, the Gills take the ones that buck.

“We believe that’s natural. They buck, that’s what they do.”

He trains the bulls and horses to acclimatise to the noises of a busy show ring by introducing them gradually to bright lights and sounds, like the loud music of the arena.

Mr Gill said that’s more humane because when they arrive at the show they don’t get anxious or scared.

“We are suppose to have the wildest horses, [but when] 9000 fireworks went off like world war six, all the hacks[horses used in events like dressage] were going wild, but ours were just laying around sleeping.

“These are bred to be the meanest, wildest rodeo bulls. They fire up in the ring, but in our backyard, I just walk past them.”

The rodeo series has finished at the Easter Show, but there’s still plenty of attractions available, includingMurray Wilkinson and his working dogsand the canine best in show on Monday.


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