Ashleigh Bush was awarded the 2021 Rookie All-Around Champion Cowgirl of the Year last week at the Ariat APRA National Finals Rodeo in Victoria.

The award is granted to the cowgirl that earns the largest amount of prize money across the regular season and entrants must compete in at least two events to qualify.

The Yass local competed in both barrel racing and roping events across four rounds thanking her horses and family after the win.

Ashleigh said it had been a while coming after last year’s season was extended.

Clay Bush, daughter Teal Bush, horses Candy and Dawson, and Ashleigh Bush at the Mount Isa Rodeo

“I feel like it’s been something I’ve worked on for two seasons now,” she said. “It was really nice that we were able to have a final and be able to finish the season.”

The 2021 ARIAT National Finals for the Australian Professional Rodeo Association (APRA) were due to go ahead last September but were postponed due to COVID-19, border closures and travel restrictions.

Rounds one and two were held at Chiltern Rodeo Grounds on January 21 and 22 and rounds 3 and 4 were hosted by Alexandra Rodeo Grounds on January 28 and 29. Ashleigh, now an open competitor, said the ultimate rodeo goal is an Australian title and that’s what she’s shooting for down the road.

The 30-year-old began competing in the junior league with ABCRA (Australian Bushmen’s Campdraft & Rodeo Association) in her hometown, Townsville, from the age of 12.

She spent another three years competing with APRA alongside husband Clay, where she won her rookie title.

Ashleigh met her now-husband, Clay, while competing in the Queensland rodeo circuit before joining him in Yass nearly ten years ago.

Ashleigh Bush riding Candy at Forbes Rodeo

She has been using her reliable 24-year-old mare Candy in the breakaway roping event for several years now. A family horse, the mare was bred and is still owned by

Ashleigh’s father-in-law Kieran, and also competed with Clay in the junior league.

Candy previously competed in steer wrestling but suffered a paddock injury that resulted in the loss of her right eye.

“It was only then when she lost her eye that I changed events on her and started breakaway roping because she couldn’t actually compete in steer wrestling,” she said.

“I still really wanted to use her because she was so special to me.”

Ashleigh said Candy does well in every rodeo event except barrel racing, which she rides Dawson in.

She purchased the gelding nearly two years ago and described him as a “phenomenal barrel racing horse”.

“He’s sort of won me everything that I could win in the season of barrel racing,” she said.

Ashleigh qualified for the EQUITANA Australian Open Barrel Racing Championship early last year – the biggest stage for barrel racing across the nation.

The event was due to go ahead last year but was delayed due to the uncertainty created by the impact of the Delta variant. The Melbourne competition is now set to go ahead on the 10 to 13 November 2022.

By Brianna O’Rourke