The fastest growing horse sport in Australia made its way to American soil, and it landed in Kiowa, Colo.
While the sport of campdrafting has performed “displays” (or demonstrations) in the U.S. over the years, there has never been a sanctioned competition.
Until last week.
Sunday, Aug. 25, was a sun-soaked day filled with Australian-style horse and cattle action inside the outdoor arena of the Elbert County Fairgrounds.
Much like the American-style team penning or ranch sorting sports are rooted in American ranching traditions, the sport of campdrafting comes from the traditions of “ringers” (ranch men) working with “beasts” (cattle) on the huge Australian continent.
“The sport originated from people out on their ranches, what we call ‘properties’ in Australia,” explained Australian Pete Comiskey during a break in action at the Kiowa competition.
Comiskey is considered Australia’s premier campdraft competitor, similar in the sport’s status to American ProRodeo’s Trevor Brazile.
Comiskey and fellow distinguished competitor and good friend (or “mate”) Steven Hart traveled all the way from Australia to teach a weekend campdrafting clinic and supervise the first-ever sanctioned competition on U.S. soil.
“The (ranch men) would bring the stock in and they’d have to mark their calves,” continued Comiskey in his rich Australian accent about the sport’s origins from the 1800s. “So they used the horses to cut the cows out and take the fat cattle away, bring the weaners in and all that sort of stuff. After a while ... it became a bit of a rivalry that there were some better horses than other horses. So all of a sudden, those guys were selected, of course, to cut the stock out and the other guys held the herd.
“Then, of course, it became a bit more than that. On the weekend they’d get all the stock together and they’d go and hold the herd and things like that. It wasn’t until some 40-odd years ago that there was actually a group formed, an association.”
“It went from having eight (competitors) in the draft to 30 in the draft. I can remember back in the 1970s we got 80 in some of our big events, then it got to 200. Now, each and every weekend, there will be five (campdrafting competitions) in Australia. In some of those big events, we have 800-900 competitors in one event.”
“It’s the fastest growing horse sport in Australia,” interjected Hart on the subject. “We are very privileged to be able to bring the sport to the United States.”
In the competitions, a mounted rider moves into a small “yard” (pen) and selects one beast from a small “mob” (herd) of cattle.
The rider attempts to move the beast toward the camp opening, which is blocked by either men on horses or two gates with men holding them shut.
The rider then blocks and turns the beast several times across the face of the camp to demonstrate the horse’s ability to hold the beast from the mob.
When the rider feels they have shown the judge enough, he or she calls for the gates to be opened and they move into the larger arena to complete the course.
The course itself consists of two pegs set apart in the arena; one on the left and one on the right directly out from the gates.
The rider’s goal is to control and push the beast around the pegs in a figure-eight type of pattern.
If the rider is able to control the beast around the pegs in the correct direction, they proceed to another two pegs set close together and representing a gate, where the rider attempts to push the beast through the gate in the correct direction.
If successful, the rider has finished the “run,” which must be completed within a 40-second time limit.
The timer starts when the horse’s nose breaks the plane of the gates on their way into the larger arena.
The maximum score is 100 points.
The “camp” section is worth a maximum of 26 points, the “run” in the arena a maximum of four points, and a further 70 points are possible for “horsework.”
Hart and Comiskey agreed a score of 85-86 or above would yield a contestant an opportunity to advance to the finals in most competitions.
Whether they made a successful run or not, it seemed each of the 100-plus participants enjoyed the Kiowa contest.
“It was awesome,” enthused Darla Orton of Elizabeth, Colo. “I liked that you got to go fast and chase cattle.
“And I got a ribbon,” she added with a laugh.
“It’s fun (and) exciting,” said Paul Johnson, who traveled from Texas for the clinic and competition.
“It’s not as easy as it seems on the videos,” he noted with a smile. “The cows are unpredictable and it’s the luck of the draw which cow you get.”
“Everybody loves it,” summed up Mary Harris, the driving force behind the fledgling U.S. National Compdrafting Association and getting the first sanctioned campdrafting competition on U.S. soil to be held in Kiowa. “That is so addictive. Talk about an adrenaline rush, when you are out there (in the arena).”
Harris’ tireless efforts over the last eight months to officially bring the sport to the states were lauded by both Hart and Comiskey.
“Mary has done a (heck) of a job putting all of that together,” praised Hart about the establishment of the U.S. National Campdrafting Association. “This is our sport and we came over here to present it because we love it to bits.
“There are other people that want to start this in other places and want us to come over,” he added, about interest generated at the Kiowa event. “We want to make sure we keep Mary’s (U.S. National Campdrafting Association) structure in place. It’s been sensational.”
“I’ve got to congratulate Mary on the way the structure has been formed,” agreed Comiskey. “Everyone is having fun and getting to learn this new sport. We are very privileged to be able to bring the sport to the United States.”
“You couldn’t ask for better people to work with,” said Harris about the people behind the sport of Australian Campdrafting, including Hart and Comiskey. “They have worked with us hand-in-hand to do this. Texas is already big on it. Everybody is loving this. It is so different than sorting and penning. This is an individual sport. It’s just great and everybody who is trying it, they’re just loving it.” ❖