Campdrafting is a test for horsemanship

Campdrafting is a test for horsemanship

Rhys Morrissey, Benger, is one of the more experienced riders in campdrafting and breeds his own horses for competition.

Rhys Morrissey, Benger, is one of the more experienced riders in campdrafting and breeds his own horses for competition.


Campdrafting is a growing sport that tests the skill of horse riders and the harmony they have with their horses when moving cattle around a specially-designed area.


CAMPDRAFTING is a growing sport that tests the skill of horse riders and the harmony they have with their horses when moving cattle around a specially-designed area.

The rider is assessed on how well they cut out a cow from the camp and move it around a couple of pegs before going through a final gate.

It's a test of speed, skill and horsemanship and one of the leading competitors here in Western Australia is Rhys Morrissey, from Benger, south of Harvey.

He became involved with campdrafting about 15 years ago, at the age of 19 years.

"I started in Queensland, working on a cattle station over there and did a few drafts, then I came back and when I was at uni I started campdrafting and it continued from there," Mr Morrissey said.

He grew up with horses but didn't ride them a lot as a kid, "but we had them around".

The fascination was there from a young age, wearing out a video tape of classic Australian horse movie, The Man from Snowy River.

"I watched it that many times and I have always loved horses and it was just a natural progression," he said.

Mr Morrissey became involved in rodeo and has been very competitive in bull riding and bareback competitions and today he still competes in saddle bronc, being the current and four-time WA champion.

At the time of sitting down for a chat with Farm Weekly at the recent Coolup Campdraft event, he had just contested four straight rodeos and conceded the body was looking for a break.

"Campdrafting is definitely a lot easier on the body and it's a sport that everyone can do," he said.

Mr Morrissey said there were people involved well into their 80s, saying longevity was a big thing and children could also get involved from as young as eight years of age.

The objective of campdrafting is to ride your horse into the camp where there are up to eight cattle, select one cow and remove it from the rest.

"You are looking for a cow that you think is going to work off your horse and that is not too stubborn and you cut it out," Mr Morrissey said.

"The cut out is where the skill comes in.

"It comes from knowing cattle and how to work them, so there is the livestock aspect as well as horsemanship aspect.

"Then it is knowing where you need to be and also having a horse that knows what to do as well - that is where the training, temperament and breeding comes in."

Once the cow is separated it is moved up to the front of the gates, where they are directed around a couple of different pegs and through another gate.

The run is measured out of 100 points with a maximum of 26 points in the cut out, followed by four points for going around the pegs and then 70 points available to the rider, where they are judged on horsemanship.

A score of about 90 is the aim, with Mr Morrissey describing that as similar to scoring 100 in cricket or seven goals in a game of football.

"I like it to be smooth and pretty fast and I like to be in control of the cow, as opposed to chasing the cow - you actually want to be driving your cow into the position the whole way around," he said.

Mr Morrissey said the judges were looking for a horse that was appealing to the eye "and by that I mean it is not arguing with the rider and chucking its head around".

He said the horse needed to react simultaneously with the rider and slow down and change direction when needed.

The judges will look at how the horse positions itself and will be in close proximity to the cow and will not be bothered by it and "will not try to run too fast or hang back".

Mr Morrissey said a good horse would know what to do with minimal instruction.

"If the cow moves and you have to tell the horse to move, you are pretty much beaten - you want the horse to move in time with the cow," he said.

Every couple of runs two new cattle are injected into the camp, with hundreds of cows required for each competition which is usually held over two days.

Once they have been used once they are generally not used in that competition again as they will know the routine and where to run to.

Mr Morrissey said it was possible for a cow to be used in another competition at a different location sometime later, but not at the same arena.

Before each run he said he would look at how they were performing and try to pick one that he wanted to work with.

But having fresh cows coming into the equation all the time, the ones he might be singling out might have already been used by a rival competitor, saying it was the luck of the draw and you always had to have a back-up plan.

"Different riders are looking for different things and will often pick different cattle," he said.

When asked what makes a good rider Mr Morrissey paused before saying a lot of practice, patience and concentration.

"You need to do it for a long time," he said.

"Not many people are naturally gifted at it despite what everyone says, as everyone works at it for a long time.

"It's also about holding your nerve and not getting flustered because it is a pressure sport.

"You could have the perfect cow picked out and knowing you need a decent score to win a draft and then the person in front of you takes it, so you pick the next best one.

"I guess it is the temperament of the person and, I think, generally hours in the saddle.

"There are some brilliant riders who could probably get a broom stick around and make it look good, but for the average person, you want to spend some hours on your horse, getting your horse going nicely."

Mr Morrissey said the key was to have a lot of practice with the horse and how people did that varied widely.

"Some people work on farms and they bring cattle in on their horses, so they will poke around on cattle all day," Mr Morrissey said.

"Other people have regular jobs and they will have a little arena or a paddock at home with some cows in it and they will go and chase them once or twice a week and work their horses, while others will just do the best they can with what they have got."

"Basically you are just teaching your horse to follow something and go where you position it."

There are also mechanical cows which are on a pattern and run left and right, teaching the horse how to cut out and "they are popular but there are lots of different ways".

"It comes down to education, if you put enough time and effort in you can train a horse without it seeing real cattle, you have just got to be very persistent," Mr Morrissey said.

He wasn't too sure how much of an advantage his rodeo foray gave him in the campdrafting arena.

"Probably the only advantage I get from rodeo across campdrafting is it teaches you to hold your nerve," he said.

"When you put things into perspective, you are going into a camp of fundamentally pretty nice cattle on a horse that you know pretty well.

"I probably enjoy campdrafting more from the point of having big runs - you are putting up big scores and if you have a great weekend you might win a draft and place in a couple of others," he said.

"Whereas rodeo is a huge buzz, you are getting on some of the best horses at national finals and they are big monsters.

"In a rodeo you have done the best you can with someone's horse that knows its job which is to throw you off, whereas campdrafting is with a horse that you have worked with for probably four to five years."

Campdrafting competitions would not be possible without donor cattle, that are trucked in for the event.

Mr Morrissey said the ideal cow was probably a two-year-old and a minimum of 350 kilograms, saying small cattle were dangerous as they could run under a horse's legs.

"Sometimes we draft big Friesian steers or Brahman bullocks, depending on where you are," he said.

"Down south we have a lot of British bred Angus, Shorthorn crosses and Friesians whereas when we go north we have a lot more bos Indicus and more pastoral cattle."

When it comes down to what horses are best for campdrafting the two main breeds are the Australian stock horse or the Australian quarter horse and the choice is subjective.

"Some people are diehard stock horse fans and some are diehard quarter horse fans - it's like the Fremantle Dockers and the West Coast Eagles," he said.

"Most people like a certain type of horse, generally quarter horses are a little smaller so if people like that smaller, more compact horse they will go for them."

Mr Morrissey said quarter horses were generally renowned for being better for yard cut outs which came from their American heritage, but the stock horses were known for being better chasing horses outside of yards but "realistically a well-trained horse will get the job done".

"You are looking for a type of horse that will run a circle, where it can do it smoothly, look good doing it and be comfortable to ride because fundamentally campdrafting is three big circles," he said.

"If you get a horse that is uncomfortable to ride or struggles a bit to cover ground it doesn't make it a lot of fun."

Personally Mr Morrissey looks for a horse's athletic ability and its strength to cut out and he wants it to listen to instructions and respond well to the cattle.

He breeds his own horses and for other competitors.

"I am a big believer in that genetics is almost 80 per cent of your training," Mr Morrissey said.

"You look around these days and all the campdrafts won over east and here are pretty much by what we call bred horses now - there are not many horses out of the bush.

"There is the odd thoroughbred or crossbred and people enjoy it and they have fun, but generally your top end horses are cow-bred horses.

The ideal campdraft horse is about five to six-years-old and once they start campdrafting, Mr Morrissey likens it to a three-year apprenticeship where they are competent and good enough to win.

When explaining the campdraft concept to people he said it was like barrel racing a cow "and they seem to understand that concept".

"It is also like golf where you hit a white ball off a tee and try and get it in a little hole and campdrafting is the same - you get one cow out and you run around a course for a gate," he said.

"The reality is there are so many more variables - with golf you have got bunkers, wind and all that sort of stuff, plus your own swing, where with campdrafting we have got different cows to select, different courses on the day and different horses - so the principle is easy but the reality is very, very different."

One of the traditional campdrafting rules relates to illegal tail turns.

"When you are cutting out you have to keep the horse facing the beast," Mr Morrissey said.

"It doesn't matter what happens, if the beast runs down your left side, you have to turn to the left.

"It's a traditional rule to keep your horse facing up to the cattle.

"And there is a bit of safety to it because your horse can be blindsided to the cattle and then you wouldn't know what was happening."

Mr Morrissey said it was a trap for novice riders but occasionally the more experienced riders made the mistake, much to the amusement of their rivals "and it usually costs them a carton".

He said the sport's popularity was growing and he attributed it to being something that riders of any age could do - as well as the family atmosphere and the social aspect of camping with mates for a weekend.

"The really enjoyable aspect is that you can go really fast or just tonk along as a beginner and still enjoy it,'' he said.

"And the horses know when they have had a good run too."

The South West campdrafting season started in Eneabba in October and has already included rounds at Badgingarra, Gingin, Coolup, Blythewood and Capel.

After a Christmas break it will resume in late January with a round at Mt Barker, followed by Mayanup, Manjimup, Williams, Munglingup and Dardanup, finishing at Blythewood in April.

Constantly learning and the social aspect is a lure for campdraft newcomer Gemma Oldfield of Perth.

Constantly learning and the social aspect is a lure for campdraft newcomer Gemma Oldfield of Perth.

Gemma Oldfield is one of the newer competitors to the sport of campdrafting, having only taken it up in the past two years.

She used to ride horses "on and off over the years" and for about three years prior, went along to campdrafting events to watch family members compete.

"Then one day I decided that I was getting a horse and I was going campdrafting," Ms Oldfield said.

Not having high expectations, she enjoys getting on the horse and learning new things with every run.

"We know what we need to do and it's all about the fun for me."

Ms Oldfield said the biggest learning curve was that every run was different and every cow reacted in different ways.

"You just have to go in there with a bit of confidence and hope for the best."


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