No bull dust as Rutherfurd rides again

Stephanie Gardiner |

Champion bull rider Donovan Rutherfurd says competing at his hometown rodeo means a hell of a lot.
Champion bull rider Donovan Rutherfurd says competing at his hometown rodeo means a hell of a lot.

Champion bull rider Donovan Rutherfurd isn’t in the sport for accolades or adrenaline.

Far from the bright lights and screaming crowds of the rodeo circuit, the 22-year-old likes to ride alone on the outback Queensland cattle station where he works as a stockman.

“I really enjoy getting on bulls when nobody’s watching,” Mr Rutherfurd tells AAP from the 73,000-hectare property near Mount Isa, the wind whistling over the plains. 

“There’s definitely a relationship there and a trust in yourself because it’s dangerous,” he says.

“You need a real love for it and love and understanding for the animal.”

Mr Rutherfurd laughs affectionately as he describes one of his bulls, named Why So Serious?

“He’s very easy to handle and he’s quiet. But as soon as you buck him, he flips a switch and he’s an angry little man.

“Then he goes back to the yards and you can feed him by hand and pat him.”

Another is called King of Surprise.

“He’s a little, young bull and if you’re not on your game, he’ll bloody put you in the dirt, I reckon.”

Mr Rutherfurd took out several national titles at the Australian Professional Rodeo Association’s finals in February, a decade after his first calf left him lying in the dust.

Growing up, he watched his mother compete in barrel racing and took after his bull-riding cousins.

Long, hot days working on the land keep his mind and body strong, giving him a competitive edge.

“It’s a mindset of ‘you’re not finished even when you’re finished’.

“I’m working every day, from horses, to manual labour, to long days working with cattle.

“It’s the challenge of always having to work and get better.”

Even during months of recovery from falls that shattered his jaw and broke his arm in recent years, Mr Rutherfurd was dreaming of riding again.

“It never ever left in my mind. I wouldn’t be where I am now without any of that.”  

He will compete at next month’s Mount Isa Mines Rodeo, billed the biggest event of its kind in the southern hemisphere, with 750 competitors and a $270,000 prize pool.

Tens of thousands of visitors are expected to take in rodeo traditions like line dancing and whip cracking, along with performances from Baker Boy and Guy Sebastian.

As a high-profile indigenous cowboy, Mr Rutherfurd is supporting the rodeo’s new championship for First Nations riders.

“There’s a lot of natural ability but a lot of that talent goes unseen and they may not get the opportunities that everyone else has.”

Mr Rutherfurd says it means a “hell of a lot” to ride at his hometown rodeo, where he hopes to hold on for those famed eight seconds.

“Sometimes that eight seconds feels like the longest time ever,” he says.

“Then sometimes it feels like it goes too quick.”