It’s half a world and half a lifetime from the sweltering Burdekin canefields to the raucous glitz of world champion rodeo in Las Vegas.

The road between is littered with wins and disappointment, with buckles, blood and bruises, with giving up, and walking away, and thinking again.  And it’s capped by a comeback that falls two agonising inches short of the Cinderella ending.

Bevan Brown

This is the remarkable journey of Toowoomba Powerworker Bevan Brown - left - who, three years after hanging up his spurs after a career-ending injury, is now rated as one of the best bareback riders in the world.

Born and bred at Ayr, he first bit the dirt as a six-year-old in a junior poddy ride. Young Bevan dusted himself off and climbed back on; learning to anticipate and absorb the calves’ twists and turns. He stuck at it, excelled; before moving onto steers, then bulls, then broncs. 

In November  - 35 years older and wiser from that first crack at rodeo – he was the frontrunner to clinch the World Senior Pro Rodeo bareback title under the bright lights at Vegas after dominating the US qualifying circuit earlier in the year. 

“There were three rounds for the world title,” Bevan says.  “I finished second in the first round, then tied for first in round two.  It was looking pretty good.”

Going into the third and deciding round, Bevan drew Gambler, the reigning US bucking horse of the year. In an event where half the score depends on the horse’s performance, drawing Gambler was a gift from the gods of rodeo.  Final round…the chute gate swings open…and the flank strap tethering the riding rig to Gambler comes free.  Bevan’s tilt at the title on the best horse in America was over, foiled by a failing two-inch-wide strip of leather.  He was forced into a re-ride on another horse.  It was, sadly, a dud.

“You win some, you lose some,” Bevan says. “That was a tough one not to win.  Then again, coming second in the world isn’t the end of the world – I was pretty pleased.”

The comeback kid

Bevan has plenty of reason to be “pretty pleased” back on home soil, too. On the weekend, he was crowned National Rodeo Association bareback champion, beating out world-class competitors less than half his age to take his fourth Australian title.  It’s the culmination of a stunning comeback to a sport he gave up for good three years ago.

“I tore a tendon in my arm and it took a lot of surgery to repair - I thought that was the end of it,” Bevan recalls.  He settled into a routine of weekdays working on Ergon’s poles and wires, and weekends “mucking around” on his block outside Cambooya – working his own horse, breaking in the occasional youngster, competing in a few campdrafts and doing the odd farrier job. It was comfortable, but Bevan missed the rush of rodeo, the adrenalin and the challenge and the camaraderie. His fitness was also starting to ebb.

“I joined a boxing gym in Toowoomba, just for the fitness element, and also started doing a bit of muy thai,” he said.  “I really thought riding broncs was behind me – then I heard about the senior pro tour in the US.”

Mixing it with the pros

In Australia, rodeo remains largely amateur.  With the exception of a handful of truly elite riders, the ranks are made up by weekend warriors who work day jobs to finance their participation on the circuit. 

It’s also a young man’s sport.  The glamour trinity – bull ride, saddle bronc and bareback – takes a brutal toll on the body.  It’s not just the falls, the bad landings, the good landings, the hang-ups or getting battered in the chute – the percussive impact of each buck crumbles vertebrae, frays sinews and ruptures joints.  

But in the US, with an established culture of professionalism, many riders are still at the peak of their powers long after their Australian counterparts have hung up their chaps.  They even have their own highly competitive circuit and championship for riders aged over 40.  So Bevan - newly fit, buoyed by a run of local wins and with a new-found hunger for his sport - decided to give it a crack.

In August, with the enthusiastic support of his Work Group Leader and workmates at Toowoomba depot, Bevan flew to the States to try his luck at the premier 10-round senior pro circuit, concentrated on Nebraska and Nevada. He won. And he won. And he won.  The busted-up retired rider from the Darling Downs came out in front, turning in the most consistent performances among all of the pro riders, and earning himself a shot at the world title in Las Vegas in November.

“It was pretty amazing to compete in the US; it’s so professional, with a good arena in most towns, and the riders take it seriously,” Bevan said.  “They’re super-fit; training like athletes and spending a lot of time in the gym to stay in the best possible shape to compete. I was beaten to the world title by Corey Evans who is 47, and there’s another top rider who’s 53.”

New year, new challenges

At a comparatively junior 41, with the latest Australian NRA title to his credit, the support of his workmates, and the flexibility of Ergon, Bevan is planning a tilt at the 2016 world crown. 

“To be able to compete again at this level, at this age, is a bonus,” he says. “As a kid, I never dreamed of a world title. Now that I’ve been so close, I want to see if I can go that last little bit. You never know.”

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