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Horsewoman Henrietta Purvis is taking North Otago’s hopes into the national rodeo finals in Wairoa this weekend.

Mrs Purvis is ranked fourth in New Zealand in barrel racing, which is contested by female riders. The standings are based on earnings accrued throughout the rodeo season.

Atop the table is Rhondine Long, of Middlemarch, with $7379.60. Second is fellow Middlemarch rider Jenny Atkinson on $5317.15. Mrs Purvis had been in third place earlier this month, but has since been leap-frogged by Turangi’s Courtney Fox, who has $5150.90. That leaves Mrs Purvis fourth with $4696.80, while fifth-placed Abby Hutchinson, from Whangarei, has $4099.25.

Wairoa is a long way from Waianakarua. Mrs Purvis and her husband, Graeme, a fellow rodeo rider, have driven their horse truck to the northern Hawkes Bay town, wending their way through notoriously tortuous roads beyond Napier.

Distance is a factor in which rodeos they can attend each season. Recently, Mrs Purvis and Ms Atkinson were heading to a Waikato event only to find it was called off because of the weather. They had already driven for 40 hours, making many stops to keep their horses well watered and rested.

Mr and Mrs Purvis say rodeos are “about seeing the countryside and meeting new people” as much as competing. They enjoy the camaraderie of the camps that form at each site, where riders have accommodation inside their trucks.

“This is our holiday,” Mrs Purvis said.

“The horses are our bach, our jet boats,” Mr Purvis added.

His English-born wife had never been to a rodeo until she came to New Zealand, although she was an experienced equestrian. When they went to South Canterbury’s Winchester rodeo, Mrs Purvis watched the barrel racing and thought “That looks easy; I could do that”.

“No, it’s not that easy,” she admitted. “I almost had to learn to ride again.”

In action . . . Mrs Purvis and Midge compete in the barrel race at the national final in Wanaka three years ago. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY

Finding the right horse was crucial. Mrs Purvis found Midge 11 years ago, when he was 5. He was a full brother to one of the top roping horses in New Zealand.

Midge is a quarter horse – so named in the American West because they were the fastest over quarter of a mile.

“They’ve got a butt built for speed. They’re sprinters.”

Mrs Purvis trains Midge as a sprinter, riding up a steep hill on a neighbouring farm.

“He eats the ground. Quarter horses are the Ferraris of the horse world.

“In the UK I’d worked with racehorses. I brought a bit of that into his training. I’m used to speed.”

Barrel racing horses also need agility.

“They need the speed of a racehorse and the turning ability of a dressage horse.”

Mrs Purvis said she only started doing well at rodeos after she got Midge, having spent about three years on other horses.

“He’s got so much natural ability.”

When she phoned his previous owner to discuss buying him, she was told he was slow and lazy. However, she found he was “so calm”.

“He knows when it’s racing time. He’s lazy, but he’s extremely fast.

“He was like a little show pony then. Now, he’s a big, strapping, well-muscled horse.

“He knows he’s special.”

Mrs Purvis expects Midge will be able to compete for another two years. She will then “keep him working”, especially with cattle.

“The naughtier the calves, the better.”

After some 14 years in barrel racing, Mrs Purvis says she is “still improving, always learning”.

“I listen to everybody. I watch what the good people do.

“The important part is in your head. You get one go at each rodeo. Your run should last 16 seconds. It’s mental.”

The electronic timers used are accurate to thousandths of a second. At the Waikouaiti rodeo, there was less than one second between the top four riders.

Mrs Purvis likes the fact that her chosen sport is simply “you against the clock”.

“It’s very clean, very pure.”

The riders appreciate each other’s skills.

“We all want to see everyone doing well.

“If I get beaten, I want to do better.”