The old adage “have horse, will travel” is right on the money when describing Jessica Norton, a seasoned cowgirl from Western Australia who has made Gunnedah her home.
The 27-year-old, who lives with the Wharton family on their property west of Gunnedah, has qualified fourth for the ABCRA Breakaway Roping Finals at Tamworth this week and there are plenty of pundits tipping her to take the crown.
Norton grew up in Western Australia and started dabbling in horse events while living with her parents at Sandfire Roadhouse, 290km from the nearest town or halfway between Broome and Port Hedland.
“There wasn’t much else to do in the middle of nowhere so horsing around kept me entertained,” she said.
“My passion for breakaway roping started when I was at boarding school in Perth in 1999 and I haven’t looked back.
“I can’t believe how far I used to travel to rodeos just to compete.
“Look at where I’m at now. The sport has taken me right across the country,” she said.
Norton’s first-ever breakaway roping event was at Moora Rodeo in 2000 where she placed third in the Junior Breakaway.
She moved to Bindoon (80km from Perth) in 2001 to concentrate on rodeoing, competing in breakaway roping, barrel racing and steer undecorating.
In 2002 she won a rookie breakaway roping title and backed up again in 2003 to take the senior ranks.
She emulated this in 2006, also adding the steer undecorating title to her growing list of achievements.
Norton broke her leg in 2007 and, with a passion to go rodeoing full-time, made the decision to travel east, ending up in Roma, Queensland first before landing with the Whartons in Gunnedah.
“The equine infuenza broke out a week after I lobbed in Gunnedah and I’ve been here ever since,” Norton said.
“Western Australia only ran 8-12 rodeos a year but now I travel to at least 35 a year and still run my business in Gunnedah, Body Integrity.
“I love the town and the people and I have constant access around the region to my biggest passion, rodeoing,” she said.
In 2011, Norton finished the ABCRA breakaway season in 10th spot and will go into the Tamworth finals this year in fifth place.
It will be the fifth time she has qualified for the National Finals Rodeo.
2012 was by far her best season on record, with major rodeo wins at Scone, Muswellbrook and Armidale as well as the zone title for the Central Circuit.
Another highlight was finishing second at the ToughGirl 10 Head Breakaway Roping Event where she roped eight out of the ten calves.
“I don’t have my own practice pen at home so I travel to Tamworth or Scone once a week to rope and when I can’t fit the real thing in, I rope a bale of hay at home,” Norton said.
“I also keep fit by training with Chris DeGroot at Peak Fitness in Gunnedah,” she said.
Her partner in crime on the rodeo circuit is 17-year-old gelding Jack, which she purchased in 2008 from the Wharton family.
o The ABCRA National Finals Rodeo starts in Tamworth’s AELEC tonight and runs for four successive nights.