Fieldays story: Golden Gumboot and love

A former Fieldays Rural Bachelor winner says he met his future wife at New Zealand National Fieldays

When Mike Short entered the 2009 Fieldays Rural Bachelor competition on a whim, he never imagined it would change his life so dramatically.

Fast forward four years and the Golden Gumboot winner was sitting on hay bales on the back of a Ute having his wedding photos taken with his new wife Ryley, who he first met at Fieldays.

Mike -and -Ryley -at -right -with -their -wedding -party

Many people find the latest agricultural products at Fieldays, but Mike and Ryley Short (nee McGougan) found love.

Mike and Ryley’s story has been made into a short film, part of a new documentary box set, Fieldays Stories, available on TVNZ OnDemand. The box set of five short films, created to mark the 50th anniversary of Fieldays, captures the stories of people from around New Zealand and the impact that Fieldays has had on their lives.

Fieldays Rural Bachelor competition

Mike says that he never planned to enter the Fieldays Rural Bachelor competition. The Fieldays Rural Bachelor of the Year competition – as it was then called – invited single rural men to compete in a series of skill-based challenges during New Zealand Agricultural Fieldays. Eight selected contestants would receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Mystery Creek, near Hamilton, to tests their skills to find the most eligible farmer in the country.

Based in Feilding in the Manuwatu District, a trip to Mystery Creek near Hamilton seemed far away. “I heard an ad on the radio a few times one day, probably while I was out feeding the calves, and thought I’d have a week off the farm and see what happens,” says Mike, who admits that the challenge of the competition and the massive prize pool were the key draw cards.

The eight contestants went through four grueling days of competition which included everything from wood chopping to cheerleading and using an excavator to pour tea.

“It was a pretty intense environment, living in the same house with seven other guys you don’t know, competing all day, having functions every night, and not sleeping much before waking up at early to compete again,” says Mike, who was then aged 26. “We worked long days farming but being in the public all day is really tiring.”

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Mike’s wife-to-be, Ryley McGougan, was working for Mystery Creek as an Events Coordinator for the VIP function center.

On the final day of Fieldays Mike was awarded the title of 2009 Fieldays Rural Bachelor of the Year and the coveted Golden Gumboot. He also won $20,000 worth of prizes including trip to Rarotanga, a year’s supply of beer, a Stihl Chainsaw, a spa pool and an assortment of Swanndri paraphernalia.

Shortly after winning the title, Mike told reporters he had no idea what his ideal woman would be like and would “just have to wait until I meet the one”. 

A year later, the two met again at the 2010 Fieldays event. As reigning Golden Gumboot champion, Mike, still a bachelor, was invited back to judge the 2010 Fieldays Rural Bachelor competition.

Fast forward to four years later, on a sunny March day (albeit amid a drought), the two were married at Ryley’s parents dairy farm in Gordonton. The Shorts are now farming west of Feilding on their 105-hectare, 200-cow dairy farm. They have two young children, Laney, 3, and Hudson, 1.

Juggling the children and farm business has its ups and downs, but they enjoy it says Ryley. “Farming is way harder than I ever thought it was going to be, it’s not been a bed of roses,” she says. “It’s a constant learning curve. The good thing is that we find we’re better when we’re working together.”

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