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Forget the Man from Snowy River, meet the king and queen of Corryong

Edwina Mason17 April 2021

Morgan Webb and Emma O’Shea celebrate after their recent wins in the Open and Women’s Man from Snowy River Challenges. Photo: Supplied.

Emma O’Shea was picking up in the bronc ride at Normanton Rodeo when she accidentally dropped a competitor on his head.

Tumut born and bred, Morgan Webb reckons he still hasn’t recovered.

But surely he has because he’s the newly-anointed Man from Snowy River after winning the title last weekend at Corryong alongside Emma, now his partner, who won the women’s title.

It was a seventh consecutive win for Emma, and another for Morgan who clinched the open challenge in 2009, at age 19, the youngest ever title winner.

Cootamundra couple Morgan Webb and Emma O’Shea work, train and compete together, in what has become one of the most successful horse sports partnerships in the nation. Photo: Supplied.

The Cootamundra couple are not new to being a triumphant combination – Gundagai’s Battle on the Bidgee and Murrurundi’s King of the Ranges Stockman’s Challenge are already wins they’ve, together, notched on their belts.

But, for Morgan, last weekend’s accomplishment at the festival’s 25th annual celebration wasn’t just affirming, it was, for nostalgic reasons, fulfilling.

“It is because I’m from Tumut, so you consider it pretty close to home and it’s a big thing down home, so it is sentimental to win,” he said.

“Plus it’s the first big showing of the year in the country – people keep tabs on your results and follow the challenges throughout the year, so it is a good thing”.

For Emma, having watched Morgan reach the finals time and time again in previous years only to be trumped in the pointscore on the last of four days of competition, this year’s win was inspiring.

“It was just good to see him do what he can do,” she said.

A test of good horsemanship – which highlights the special relationship between horse and rider – the annual quest to find the modern day Man from Snowy River began in 1995.

The skill of today’s Australian stockmen and women are on display as they compete in the six gruelling preliminary events set to challenge the most skilled and professional horse and rider teams.

Stock and packhorse handling, whip cracking, bareback riding, horse shoeing and cross-country, brumby catch and buck jumping complete the suite of events.

The top 10 scoring riders move forward from the preliminary events to take centre stage on the Sunday and earn their place in the final events.

Cattle handling and the pack horse session proved to be Emma and Morgan’s nemesis this year.

“The cattle handling is always quite a tough event and this year both of us didn’t do as much as we usually do,” Morgan said.

“So it was a bit of a setback from the start.”

“Then the packhorse sessions weren’t as good as we usually do,” he added.

“Those were our first two events so we had to step it up from there and luckily everything started to work after that.”

Emma said she didn’t fare so well in the whip crack either.

“But Morgan did really well,” she quipped.

It was the same combination of horse and rider each time, which was, for her, a satisfying outcome and for Morgan it was a lucky run with his draw for livestock and a nine-year-old gelding – Dogwilli Norman – he’s had for the past six years.

Grounded for almost a year by the suspension of events nationwide, Emma said the lack of shows during the pandemic had been discouraging. Her horse – Hilite Dads Acres, affectionately known as Dude – had an extended holiday in the paddocks for the duration.

But when it came time to bring them in – the training method is simple – long rides with a difference.

“What we like to do is do something different on our horses every day with a focus on a different event,” Morgan said.

“One day we’ll go for a ride and take whips with us and hit targets, like leaves on the ground”.

“As we take the horse on a ride for fitness we might take a breaker with us – we’re breakers by trade – and teach it to lead off a horse which is related to the brumby catch, or we’ll go for a bareback ride and do a few jumps which is related to the bareback section.”

Nearly every day they’ll do a couple of jumps in preparation for the cross country section.

“And we pretty much shoe a horse every day of our lives,” added Emma.

With a one-year-old and three-year-old in tow, they’re now a family and despite establishing a breaking and training facility, they criss-cross the nation for a multitude of events.

“The kids don’t know any different – they’re adaptable, they’re really well behaved, they don’t need to be entertained all the time – they are happy just to play in the dirt or whatever,” she said.

Around this time each year, winters in the south are abandoned as the family migrates north to Emma’s home state of Queensland to undertake the northern run of campdrafts and challenges.

Emma says 16 degree days in her hometown of Almaden, two hours west of Cairns, was considered a cold day, so she’s pretty happy to follow the sun.

And it appears they’re talents are unconfined.

On Friday they were competing in the 2021 Barastoc Interstate Polocrosse Series at Morgan Park in Warwick.

“In it together, win it together!” is popping up on congratulatory Facebook posts, so when asked if this was their motto Emma replied, “is now!”

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