Campdrafting is a unique and popular working horse event seen almost exclusively in Australia. It is similar to American events like cutting, working cow horse, and team penning. Originally an informal contest between working cow-horses, it has evolved into a national sport with categories for men, women, and junior riders. Participation is huge, both as spectators and competitors; and a campdrafting champion wins big both in prize money and prestige.
Basically, a campdrafting course is shaped like a fat keyhole. A mob of cattle, called beasts, are held in the small end of the keyhole, called the camp. The large part of the keyhole is called the arena. In between is a smaller opening from one to the other.
The competitor must enter the camp and 'cut out', or separate, one beast from the mob. Part of the skill is learning to judge and choose a beast that will run, but is not too fast for your horse. Once the beast is cut, the horse must block, turn, and move it back and forth across the camp at least twice. The rider decides when he has sufficiently proved to the judges that he can control the beast. He then drives the beast into the arena.
In the arena are three obstacles in a large triangular shape. Two posts or trees stand to the left and right of the opening, far enough apart for a horse to run a figure-8 pattern around them. Deeper in the arena are two smaller posts set close together, and called the gate. The rider must drive the beast around the posts in a figure-8, then to and through the gate, in less than 40 seconds. The complete maneuver from cut out to gate is called a draft.
A total of 100 points are available for this timed event. The 'cut out' is worth up to 26 points, the horse work in the camp up to 70 points, and the arena course 4 points. The horse is disqualified if he loses the beast more than twice, loses control of it in the arena or runs it into the fence, or misses the gate.
Originally the sport developed in the outback regions around Queensland. Stock men and drovers engaged in informal competitions to prove their skills. The first formal campdrafting competition was held in 1885 in the New South Wales region. A cattleman and horse breeder named Clarence Smith attended, and is credited with creating the rules and judging procedures that are still used today.
The two most publicized events are the Warwick Cup, a premier event lasting six days and hosting over 1800 campdrafters; and the Nationals at the end of the season. More than 30,000 campdraft horses are currently registered throughout the country.
Breeding and training of campdraft horses is big business. The horses must be strong, fast, intelligent, and athletic. They must understand cows and cow-work. They must have an even, steady temperament and require a good bit of training to perform well. Proven horses sell for as much as $51,000 each.
Besides competition, campdrafting skills are still required for cattle work in many parts of Australia. Some ranches use motorcycles and jeeps, but horses can still perform better in the more rugged terrain. The most popular breed is the Australian Stock Horse, developed from breeds that arrived with the earliest colonists. So popular are they that over one hundred campdrafters and breeders got together in 1971 to form the Australian Stock Horse Association, to establish and protect the characteristics of this incredible working horse as a recognized breed. To see photo galleries of these amazing horses and competitions, go on-line to www.campdrafting.com.