My brave little boy, Byron, five, rock to and fro on top of the young steer, I held my breath.
Steadied by burly farmers on either side as he slid off the bucking beast, Byron thrust his little arms high in the air and cheered.
‘When can I do it again?’ he laughed afterwards.
And that was it – my pint-sized cowboy was hooked on rodeo!
A premature bub born at 30 weeks in December 2012, Byron weighed a tiny one kilo. Tube-fed for seven weeks and having a weakened immune system, despite his size Byron was one determined little boy.
When he was two in 2014, I’d taken Byron to see a Professional Bull Riders (PBR) rodeo show in Sydney.
My tiny toddler fell in love with the bucking bulls, loud music, wild crowds and excitement.
Byron learned to recite the cowboy’s prayer before the national anthem, and loved his miniature cowboy hat and boots.
Byron and I moved with his sister Willow, then one, from the Gold Coast to Mount Isa the following year.
From then our lives revolved around rodeo. And Byron fell head over heels, aged five, when he had his first ride on a bull!
I spent weekends driving hundreds of kilometres to rodeos all over Australia.
And although he gave up sleepovers and fun with friends to compete, as we camped out in swags under the vast bush stars and watched stunning sunsets, our deep bond as a family grew.
At the rodeos, Byron adored tugging on a pair of fringed leather chaps, a tiny padded vest, and a crash helmet for protection.
Watching the little bulls violently buck up and down, tossing Byron’s body to and fro, I could see his face etched with steely determination.
Even though at times I was scared, I bit my lip, never showing him.
When he crashed to the dust, the smile he gave as he got up was dazzling.
‘Make sure he doesn’t get hurt,’ my mum, Tanya, worried.
But Byron loved it so much I didn’t have the heart to stop him.
He practised hard, watching his rides back on video. And he got up at 5am every day to work with a trainer on his core strength and started boxing.
But rodeo riding wasn’t without its dangers. At a rodeo in 2018 in Dajarra, Qld, I watched in horror as Byron, then five, fell off a bull, bending his wrist awkwardly.
Rushed to the ambulance that was always on standby, Byron said adamantly, ‘I’m right.’
But he was in so much pain, I drove him to Mount Isa Hospital where doctors said he’d fractured his wrist, placing it in a cast.
The next weekend, while we were watching a rodeo in the stands, Byron went missing. He was brought back by one of the old cowboys.
‘He was trying to get us to tie him on the cow!’ he laughed.
Byron spent hours learning from the older cowboys. One retired rodeo rider, Budd, became his mentor when Byron was six.
A leather worker, he made Byron’s chaps and rang him with words of encouragement.
Through rodeo, I saw my son grow into a little gentleman.
‘Thanks for taking me, Mum. I want to help out,’ Byron said every weekend, so thankful for the money I spent on registrations.
So when he was eight he spent hours shovelling horse poo into bags. He then sold it for fertiliser and gave me the money.
Byron was small for his age. ‘Size doesn’t matter, it’s the heart of the lion that matters,’ I told him.
And as he won trophies and buckles, regularly winning rodeos in his age group or above, Byron proved just what a little lion he was.
Willow, now eight, loves the rodeo too and is incredibly proud of Byron.
When Byron, 10, was invited to the 2023 Youth Bull Riders World Finals in Texas, US, I was ecstatic.
‘Would you like to go to America to represent Australia?’ I asked as he burst into happy tears.
We jetted off in August with the other eight riders on the Aussie team, Byron the youngest of all.
He was sick with nerves when we arrived in Dallas. But the next day when he saw the bulls and felt the atmosphere of the crowd, he was raring to go.
The raging bulls were bigger than any he’d ridden.
And as he gave it a red-hot go and was bucked off, he still smiled.
‘I’d rather be thrown off a bucker than win on a walker,’ he said, proudly.
He competed in 13-hour days but never complained.
Byron was just so proud to represent Australia.
The rodeo community is like our family. I’d trust those cowboys with my son’s life.
When Byron grows up, he wants to become a professional rodeo rider.
I’m so proud of my pint-sized cowboy.