In 2017, Michelle Potter lost her mother Robyn to bowel cancer.
It would be enough to break many people, but instead Michelle and daughter Amber Haling vowed to channel their grief into the sport all three women loved.
Less than two years later, Michelle has been named Steer Undecorating Champion at the Australian Bushmen’s Campdraft and Rodeo Association national finals at Tamworth.
“Our motto is to live each day like it’s your last,” Michelle said.
“My daughter and I set out with a goal to compete hard throughout the year, and dedicate any success to her.
“She enjoyed rodeo right up until she passed … I just wish she was there to see it. She was my number one supporter.
“It was definitely tough not having her here this year”.
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The female equivalent of steer wrestling, steer undecorating sees the cowgirl, with the assistance of a hazer, catch up to a steer and remove the ribbon attached to its back – all in the quickest time possible.
Michelle got into horse sports at the tender age of four, her parents carting her around regional NSW to compete.
But it was husband Justin that introduced her to rodeo eight years ago, and she fell in love.
It’s still a family affair: daughters Amber, 11 (junior breakaway roping, barrel racing), and Indi Potter, 4 (barrel racing) both compete.
Michelle spent the past 12 months travelling the length and breadth of Australia, competing in more than 55 rodeos and accruing $8800 in prize money – the measure by which athletes are ranked.
She took a $1300 lead into the national final where she finished fifth overall, but it was enough to claim the champion title.
“It’s been a long year … we’ve spent a lot of time practising after work and then every Friday afternoon we’re in the car travelling for up to eight hours to go to a rodeo, and then back to work on Monday,” Michelle said.
“It’s been a tough year of vehicle breakdowns as well, but it’s definitely worth the hard work.
“I never thought an Australian title would be possible – I’m still in shock I think!”
Michelle paid credit to her horse Chilli, who she said “has been pretty consistent every run”, and also thanked her sponsor Dubbo Steel Supplies.
She also credited hazers Greg Frewin, Heath Nichols, Matt Hedland, Elise Rewell, Joel Hilditch and Clinton Butt, saying “without them I probably wouldn’t have been able to have the year I had”.
“It’s a great family sport … fun, there’s no pressure and you can go out and have fun,” Michelle said.
“You’re surrounded with great people that are like family every weekend … and it takes us to places we’ve never been.”