Saddled up for barrel of fun
JILL Lyons is a rider who likes to do it the hard way, and whatever she is doing at the moment seems to be working when she enters the arena for a barrel race.
Injuries and the birth of baby daughter Charlie has seen Lyons away from the barrel racing circuit for a couple of years, however her return to riding in recent months has provided the experienced horsewoman with spectacular results.
"I only started riding again in September," she said.
A partial knee replacement, the birth of Charlie and then a serious injury - to her "good" leg when a horse fell on her - prevented Lyons from competing.
Now she is back in a big way and looking forward to the chance of claiming the big prize at the Great Western's Nissan Navara Arena during the Goody's Earthmoving New Year Showdown which will be held tomorrow and Saturday night.
Sometimes the barrel racers could be forgiven for thinking they are the forgotten people of rodeo as rider skills are rarely reflected by the prize money.
That is not the case in the Showdown with a big purse of $5000.
"It's good to see so much prize money put up at the Great Western," Lyons said. "It usually only goes to bull riders, apart from at the Mount Isa Rodeo.
"The sport is really beginning to grow."
Lyons goes into the big event in hot form, having won the last two barrel races at the Great Western, but is quick to point out that any of the 18 cowgirls nominated could scoop the prize pool.
Lyons is in better form than before she suffered her injuries even though her horse, a six-year-old, is relatively young.
"She's only a baby," she said with a grin. "I named her Pink after the singer and she also has a bit of attitude."
Pink has taken to racing smartly at the tight Great Western circuit, something other horses fail to achieve. And while Pink is doing the job, Lyons said she rides to a plan when competing at the tight Great Western circuit.
"I like to run the straight lines," she said.
Making the straight runs at speed requires daring from both rider and horse as the pair gather pace towards the looming crowd-protection fence before turning around a barrel, but Lyons is confident in the ability of her young horse and certain she will not be distracted by spectators.
While Pink is one of the younger horses in the arena it is not a similar story for Lyons.
"I will be the oldest," the 32 year old said. "There are a lot of good, young competitors."
"I guess I am older but a bit wiser."
Lyons is content to compete and enjoy the ride.
"I am not concentrating on wanting to win all the time," she said. "Winning prize money is a bonus."
Whatever the outcome Lyons will be well supported over the two nights of the rodeo with husband Mark and 15-month-old Charlie cheering her on.