A medical scientist who spends her free time riding bucking bulls has returned from a trip to the United States, the mecca of rodeo competitions, despite suffering a serious shoulder injury just five days from leaving.
Based in Kununurra in WA’s far north, pathologist Ruth Vogelsang is thought to be one of the only Australian women who has ridden on the US bull riding circuit.
After spending the past four years travelling to rodeos across the Top End, she was recently invited to stay in North Carolina and compete alongside some of the world’s best.
But five days from leaving she was taken to hospital after both her and her horse fell.
The accident separated her AC joint from her shoulder.
“I was absolutely gutted,” she said.
Pushing through pain
Determined to ride anyway, Ms Vogelsang pushed through the pain, training every day to travel across several US states to compete as often as possible.
Based with fellow North Carolina competitor Jorden Halvorsen she rode bulls every three days, along with her training on a stationary barrel.
“I looked like a true beginner, just the [fewer] bulls that I’d been on.
“I thought I was doing alright doing 15 or 16 before going over there. That’s what they ride in a month.”
Change in confidence
Unlike Australia, the US has a female bull riders league and it is not unusual for women to ride alongside men.
“It’s still a bit of a boys club over there but no-one said ‘no’ to our nominations and that was, I guess, just such a novelty to me,” she said.
Ms Vogelsang said making the trip has earned her more respect from her Australian male counterparts.
“I think my confidence, if anything, has really skyrocketed,” she said.
“I feel like I’ve earned my place a lot more and I think that’s pretty integral.
Competing on the American circuit is the goal for most rodeo competitors, and Australian open bull rider Jeremiah Lander said exposure to different styles and bulls was important.
“It’s good for Ruth she went to the States, seeing something different and going to different rodeos. You’ve always got different stock contractors,” he said.
Mr Lander said that while female bull riders were still uncommon, more women were beginning to get involved.
“I reckon it’s good for girls having a crack at what boys do,” Mr Lander said.
Event organisers have also reported more women are coming forward to compete in steer, heifer and bullock rides.
Fitzroy Valley Rodeo and Campdraft Association president Rick Ford expected the number of female riders to continue to grow.
“I think it’s a growing craze, the girls want to mix it with them,” Mr Ford said.
“There’s a lot more jillaroos out there these days than there are jackaroos.
“If the girls want to mix it with the boys I think that’s a great opportunity for them to show their talents too.
Rodeo first, surgery second
Ms Vogelsang still has a few rides lined up in the Northern Territory before the season finishes.
Since coming back to Australia she has travelled thousands of kilometres to ride in events and clinics across the Kimberley and NT.
In November, she will have surgery on her injured shoulder, but she aims to be back in the arena as soon as possible.
A trip back to the US is also on the cards.
“That’s what promotes the sport and keeps people in the sport.
“I’d love to go back and ride with them.”