Mangawhai’s April Fletcher, 12, is aiming to rope in a top five ranking in junior barrel racing this summer, having already had a promising year.
Fletcher recently travelled with Rodeo New Zealand to compete in an under-18s event in Brisbane, Australia, against riders from as far away as Canada and the United States.
The New Zealand team took second place, after missing out on the top spot by a mere 0.009 seconds.
In barrel racing, racers ride a horse which runs in a clover leaf pattern around a course of barrels. The rider who completes a set amount of runs in the fastest time wins.
Fletcher was one of the younger competitors there, with most racers aged about 15 or 16.
She says riding an animal can be scary at first, but she recommends it to other girls her age.
“My favourite part of racing is getting to know the horse and building the bond. I’ve been riding Lulu for three years and I trust her with my life,” she says.
Fletcher’s ultimate ambition is to become the top ranked junior rider in New Zealand and to visit the United States to meet Fallon Taylor, a woman who became the World Barrel Racing champion in 2014.
Fletcher fell in love with rodeo after attending events with her father who rode bronco horses. However, when her father was no longer able to compete, it looked as if she wouldn’t be able to pursue the sport.
But in 2016, family friend and coach Steve Allen happened to have a spare horse and invited Fletcher to come and meet her.
Allen says the pair immediately bonded.
“Since then, I have been teaching her how to develop a relationship with a horse. In racing it’s really two brains coming together,” he says.
He adds that Fletcher has shown passion, commitment and capabilities well above her age level.
“There’s a lot of responsibilities involved because you have to look after your horse, feeding and grooming them.
“I told her she will need to cook, clean and set up camp if she wants to go on tour. She’s going to have to put in the hard yards, but she will get a lot out of it.”
The pair intend to compete in as many rodeo events as possible in the North Island this season to build up points towards Fletcher’s ranking.
“She has used her initiative and is fundraising so she can push harder and compete more,” Allen says.
Fletcher, along with her mother Lailene McDonald, recently organised a cowboy fancy dress party and mechanical bull competition at the Mangawhai Tavern to fundraise for the tour.
A collection box is also available at the Mangawhai Tavern for anyone who wishes to help further.