Emma O’Shea is a name synonymous with challenge.
Challenge as in stockman's challenge – the Man From Snowy River at Corryong, Battle of the Bidgee at Gundagai and King of the Ranges at Murrurundi – the 30-year-old has taken all three crowns several times each over the past few years.
But this year marked the fifth in a row Emma and her stallion – Hilite Dads Acres, affectionately known as Dude – won the ladies at MFSR.
The pair conducted a masterclass across all the events, but particularly the stockhandling and brumby catch, and were 109 points ahead of the next female finalist.
Emma’s points were also high enough to run third in the open – despite the fact the open finalists had an extra event to gain points in.
“I know I’ve got a good horse,” Emma said, “he’s so trustworthy and he knows it all better than what I do”.
The MFSR is the big daddy of all stockmen’s challenges with $20,000 up for first place in the open and cash and prizes worth $8990 for the first-placed lady.
Competitors contest six sections, the packhorse, stock handling, shoeing, cross country, whipcracking, and a bareback obstacle course.
The top 10 men, top three women and top three juniors go into the finals.
At the presentations the announcer called her the 'best horsewoman in Australia' and he’s probably not far wrong, Emma had already proved her skill by winning the campdraft event with Dude’s daughter, Sandytate Sunday Rose, as well as placing third on Dandella Serena.
Emma’s favourite event is the brumby catch.
The audience loves it too, particularly as the Man From Snowy River chase scene theme music plays loudly over the speakers.
It’s thrilling to watch excellent horse people gallop after a brumby with their halter poised.
Emma was 13 when she caught her first wild horse with her brother, on the cattle property they grew up on, “Spring Valley”, Almaden, two-and-a-half hours inland of Cairns in Northern Queensland.
“We used to catch brumbies off our motorbikes,” Emma said.
“You couldn't do it on a horse, there were ant beds and timber and logs, I don’t know how we didn’t kill ourselves, poor mum, dad just turned his head I think.”
And as if that's not enough, Emma, 30, and her partner Morgan Webb had a baby at the end of February, she put a shoe on Dude a week and a half later and rode when Connor was two weeks old.
“I only did it because I felt good, I didn’t push myself,” Emma said. Connor and Morgan, also a competitor, were on hand to see her compete, as were her family and friends from North Qld.
Growing up the way I did on our cattle property, we learned to ride really well, it’s pretty rugged and timbered, and I rode bareback all my life.
The couple met in 2013 at a rodeo/campdraft in Queensland while Morgan was working for Ben Hall, and Emma has travelled south every summer since, and now base themselves at their Cootamundra property. “Growing up the way I did on our cattle property, we learned to ride really well, it’s pretty rugged and timbered, and I rode bareback all my life,” Emma said.
“My weakest events would be whipcracking and pack saddle because I’ve never done that before.”
The Man From Snowy River Bush Festival at Corryong, Victoria, in April, is a sight to behold.
Set in a picturesque valley in the Victorian mountains complete with a brumby chase re-enactment and a street parade and well over 20,000 people milling about during the four-day weekend, watching 70 competitors take part in the challenge.
Emma said competing in the open wasn’t something she wanted to do, drawing the line at riding a bucker.
“It’d be nice to see the same number of women taken into the finals,” Emma said..
“Or even the prizemoney to be more similar, we do everything the same as the open fellas and we pay the same entry fee.”
Second and third in the ladies division went to young up-and-comers Kelsie Lupson and Ellen Forge, while in the juniors, Travis Bandy took out the title followed by Asheleigh Dodwell and Hannah Keen.
The $20,000-cash open first prize went to John Mitchell and Halls Chickenman of Tooma for the third consecutive time, an impressive record in itself.
The win bumps Chickenman’s takings to five saddles and $94,500.
“You have to give full credit to the horses,” John said.
“I like all the events, stockhandling is probably my favourite.
“I buggered up my whipcracking but I was lucky that everyone else did that on something too and I could sort of make up for it on the other events.”
The duo placed first in the stockhandling section as well as the poley buckjump