A bush horse race celebrating the history and culture of Australia’s mountain cattlemen is working to attract more women to the male-dominated event.
The Cattlemen’s Cup tests the horse and stock handling skills of some of the country’s most talented riders.
It has traditionally been the domain of men, and although some women have taken out the top prize, few enter.
Elle Woodgate is one of a new generation of women who are becoming more actively involved in the race, thanks in part to a decision by the Mountain Cattlemen’s Association of Victoria to open a women’s division.
“I’d want to do well in the ladies’ event before I went over into the open, just so you get a bit more used to the racing and that sort of stuff,” she said.
Ms Woodgate grew up in the remote Victorian town of Buchan and is the third generation of her family to compete in the race.
She is the niece of bush-racing legend Leigh Woodgate, one of the first women to compete in many of the country’s top cattlemen’s competitions.
“I like going fast, it’s a lot of fun, I like doing the whip cracking, so it’s skills that you use every day when you’re working on the farm,” she said.
Now a jillaroo in the Northern Territory, Ms Woodgate said stepping into the arena on her borrowed horse Tequila was a nerve-wracking experience.
“You get there and you’re shaking and you never know how you’re going to go,” she said.
“It could go good or it could go bad depending on the cattle or the wind and all that sort of stuff.”
The race is part of the Mountain Cattlemen’s Association of Victoria’s (MCAV) get together, which attracts thousands of stock handlers and farmers, along with their dogs and horses, to the state’s high country every year.
‘If you want adrenaline come for a ride with those fellas’
The get-together has been running for more than 40 years, and MCAV president Graeme Stoney said this year’s event in Omeo saw 4,000 people drive through the gates.
“It’s gradually grown where supporters of the mountain cattlemen, and supporters of what the mountain cattlemen stand for, which is good public land management, come together for the weekend and have fun,” he said
“This is about families, it’s about the history of the high country, it’s about preserving culture and heritage.”
He said the Cattlemen’s Cup has never excluded women, but is pleased the move to open a division for female riders has been well received.
“It started off as a race through the bush in 1983, and I was in that first run — I was the first away and last home after I fell in the river,” Mr Stoney said.
“It’s now developed into a skills-based race, with a race at the end. There’s all sorts of skills involved including cattle handling and, just different skills you need in the bush.
“It’s just part of what we used to do and still do especially those that chase brumbies and wild cattle which I did when I was younger and you love it.
“If you want adrenaline come for a ride with those fellas.”