Growing up in the remote outback has given Hailey Skye a love of life and determination so strong that not even a broken back could keep her from following her passion: competing in rodeo competitions in Australia’s far north. It’s a passion she shares with her siblings and parents, so much so that the family purpose-built a $30,000 rodeo arena on their property near Batchelor, an hour south of Darwin in the Northern Territory.
Rodeo was meant to be a hobby, Hailey confesses, but it has become an integral part of her life. Having grown up surrounded by the local rodeo scene, some of her earliest memories include watching her younger brothers riding calves around the property.
“They must have only been four or five years old at the time, it was so funny seeing those little boys strapped to these wild horses.”
Nowadays it’s a more streamlined outfit, with the family travelling up to 1000 kilometres on weekends to get to various rodeos hosted around the NT.
“My brothers are both very good bull riders now, and my sister and I barrel race on our two beautiful horses,” she told Inclusive Australia.
While Hailey has had her setbacks in rodeo—not least a broken back with a lengthy recovery time—she never dwells on the negatives, preferring to talk about the joy she gets from riding horses, competing, and living what she calls her “wonderful, exciting, and totally crazy life”.
Their shared love of rodeo is one of the things that keeps Hailey’s large, tight-knit family close, but the bonds were forged much earlier. During their ‘outdoorsy’ childhood, there was lots of playing in billabongs, shooting, fishing and riding quad bikes.
“We spent the majority of our spare time running amuck together, it was just really good fun,” Hailey remembers.
A family favourite was “mud-bogging”, where they would drive their quad bikes deep into mud and have to “unbog” themselves, spinning their wheels, just for fun.
“We’d end up covered head-to-toe in mud. Sometimes we’d get really stuck and have to leave the bikes there overnight,” she laughs.
Her unique farm life revolves around an extended family of animals including five bulls, a cow, horses, chooks and ducks.
“It’s a bit of a madhouse, but I love it,” she says.
Her family has two properties: the 20-acre hobby farm where they live and another much larger property about 100 kilometres south, where they raise cattle to support the hobby farm.
“Well, that’s the plan. We’re meant to sell the cattle, but we keep accidently naming them and keeping them as pets,” Hailey laughs.
Hailey’s weeks revolve around shift work—four days on, four days off. While she admits that it sometimes feels she’s on a cycle of “sleep, work, repeat”, it does give her plenty of time for activities and to follow the rodeo circuit. She breaks up the routine and maintains strong mental health by spending at least an hour a day doing CrossFit at the gym.
“CrossFit is intense but great for mental health. I really thrive on the endorphins that come from the mindless focus of exercise,” Hailey says.
Outside of work, Hailey is busy with family, consisting of her mother, father, two younger brothers, and a younger sister. On the weekends they love to bring together their friendship groups and neighbours from surrounding stations for large gatherings.
“It’s not at all unusual to have 30 people around at our house for an impromptu rodeo.”
Hailey’s family have strong ties to the Northern Territory, having lived in Tenant Creek and Alice Springs, before moving to Batchelor some years ago.
“We’ve shared so many laughs, adventures, sunsets, and just amazing moments,” she says.
A long-held dream they all share is to take an extended three-month trip together, following the rodeo circuit around Australia and ending up in Queensland. The adventure was supposed to have taken place in 2020. However, the plans were thrown into disarray when the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country.
While the COVID restrictions in the Northern Territory were mild compared to other states, Hailey found that not only was the trip cancelled and rodeos postponed, but the gym was closed. With online sites sold out of gym equipment, it was difficult to even try to set up a makeshift CrossFit at home. At the same time, enforced social distancing meant extended family catchups and large weekend gatherings with friends ceased.
“I dug myself into a hole at first, it was so hard to keep motivated,” she says.
What COVID couldn’t take from her was the big outdoors. With a large property to move around on and family to spend time with, she kept busy.
“I spent a lot of time outside and really noticed the weather more,” she remembers.
Meanwhile, social media and Zoom kept her in contact with the outside world. There were Zoom horse-riding lessons and Facebook competitions organised by the National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA) which would set out rules.
“Every weekend, competitors would film their ride and the NBHA would give out prizes, it really brought the community together,” she said. “We were lucky really, we had our own space and freedom to move around on the farms.”
Today, life is back to near normal for Hailey and her family. She’s once again focussed on her goals in the rodeo arena, and is working towards buying her own property and moving off the family homestead.
Looking to the future, Hailey wants to buy horses and become even more competitive with rodeo—and to finally make that dream trip around Australia with her family.
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