14 December, 2021
Local champion shows juniors the ropes
CURRENTLY ranked third in the Australian Professional Bull Riders (PBR) 2021 standings and number 22 in the world, Kurt Shephard represented Australia in the 2019 Win Star Casino Resort Global Cup in Arlington Texas in 2019 amongst other career highlights.
Back home after eight years of riding bulls in the PBR and achieving one of the best riding percentages on tour, Shephard has competed in 16 world finals and bucked his way into 10 of the Top 10 finishes of the 2021 season.
After competing at an elite level in rodeo events all around the world, the Mareeba champion passed on some of the skills he has learned to junior competitors from his local area at last weekend’s Steer and Bull Rider training school at Biboohra.
“I really enjoyed instructing the kids on Saturday. They are the future of rodeo and it was great telling them a bit of my story, teaching them some techniques and drills to help them continue improving. Instant feedback after a ride is a great way to improve and develop your own style,” he said.
Kurt was a relatively late starter in the rodeo game. “I rode my first calf at 12 years of age and broke my arm in the process, which cured me of wanting to ride again for the next couple of years. But I was looking for something I was good at and eventually I decided to try again,” he said.
“I picked up a third in my first ever Junior Bull Ride at the Einasleigh Rodeo when I was 15 and basically it was game on from there. Friends of the family supplied bucking stock to the rodeos and I spent a lot of time practicing and learning the ropes at their place,” he said.
Starting with the Australian Bushmen's Campdraft and Rodeo Association (ABCRA) NQ zone, Kurt worked his way through the Junior Bulls, Novice and Open sections of the competition, eventually winning the North Queensland Open Bull Ride in 2012 at 17 years of age.
New South Wales was the natural progression from there, travelling the state with friends and competing along the way, before taking on the Victorian Australian Professional Rodeo Association (APRA) circuit and starting his “apprenticeship” in earnest.
Winning the Australian title in 2014 at the Caboolture final remains one of Mr Shephard's career highlights.
“I had done the prep for the competition and showed up ready to win. If you put the work in, sometimes you can just go in and let it happen,” he said.
He managed to spend three months travelling and competing in America that year and focused fully on the international competition from 2016-2019 after a knee injury in 2015 forced him to come home and take a year to reset.
“I went back more determined than ever,” Shephard said.
“I landed a spot on the televised tour which gave me the opportunity to compete with, and learn from, the best riders in the world.
“Getting a guernsey on the Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour, the PBR's premier expansion Tour was great, but having my Dad there to help me on made it even more special.
“I am so glad I did those things before COVID.”
At 27 years of age, Shephard is looking forward to next year's competition.
“I really want that number 1 spot in 2022, but the important thing in competition is to be mentally prepared for the good and the bad times,” he said.
“There is a big build up before a ride, especially in the indoor arenas where the announcers generate so much atmosphere for the crowd. It is important to stay calm and focused.
“Once you nod your head at the gate keeper, everything happens so quickly. The adrenaline doesn't really hit me until after a good ride and then it feels really good.
“If the ride doesn't go as well as you would like, it is equally important to do a quick analysis of what went wrong, work out what you would change next time, and then let it go.
“If you carry that disappointment on to the next bull, you will never get the results you are chasing,” he mused. He said there was no particular “type” for bull riding.
“The main attributes would be a good body weight to strength ratio and good timing and balance. You have to be in pretty good shape physically and a laid back, carefree personality is ideal for not putting so much pressure on yourself,” he said.
Shephard has “nodded his head” thousands of times around the world now and doesn't believe it is the other riders he is competing against when they pull that chute.
“It’s really just me and the bull. If I ride him like I am supposed to, then everything else will work out in my favour,” Shephard said.
“Rodeo is a good fun sport where you meet a lot of great people and if taken seriously it is definitely a good way to travel the country and see the world. The returns are there if you just keep working on your game, and never give up,” he said.