He loves that darned old rodeo

by Sandra Lee

(April 21, 1999) -- Like the Garth Brooks song, 18-year-old Curtis Garton loves the rodeo as much as it loves him; Curtis won the New Zealand Rookie Saddle Bronc Rider of the Year title at the National finals held at Otago recently.

Curtis Garton, on a South Island bull in Invercargill earlier this year.
Curtis won twice as many points as his nearest rival South Island cowboy Kelvin Jones for a comfortable win. In a competition where a point is worth a dollar Curtis finished the 23-rodeo season with 1600 points: the Kaitaia fencing contractor was seldom home during the weekend, competing at all the rodeos in both North and South Island, between October last year and this April.

But the day he took the trophy at Waikouaiti in Otago was not one of triumph, rather of bitter disappointment for the cowboy with huge aspirations. Going into the national final, his rookie title in the bag, Curtis had his heart set on the biggest trophy of all. He recalls "looking real good" going into the final round of the New Zealand Open Saddle Bronc competition. Up against two top New Zealand riders, Chubby Dale and Clarie Church, with just one ride to go, Curtis knew he was ahead on points.

"I drew a big strong horse that reared up coming out of the shoot, bucking me off in one second. I was devastated; after cleanly winning the first round I lost a whole year's effort in that one second," he said.

But cumulated points placed Curtis fourth in the event, to return to the family farm in Oruru Valley, near Kaitaia in the Far North, with a pocketful of prize money, which he is saving towards his next goal - the Calgary Stampede in Alberta, USA next year.

"Iíll still be under 21 years and eligible for the second division", he said.

Last year Garton spent time in Australia setting up rodeos, as well as riding in them, and now plans to spend six months following rodeos in the United States in the year 2000.