A lot has changed since Patrick Leslie and his brothers Walter and John brought some stock over and squatted in the run they named Canning Downs, in the modern-day Southern Downs region of Queensland, in 1840. Seven years later, the station had already been chosen by the NSW government to locate what was to become the township of Warwick. Patrick bought the first allotment in 1850, and the Canning Downs homestead now lies a few kilometres away from the Warwick CBD. Buckjump competitions were held at Canning Downs from at least as early as 1857, and the famous Warwick Rodeo officially started in 1906. According to information written by John Skinner for the Warwick Show and Rodeo website, the Warwick Gold Cup remains today as the ‘Holy Grail’ of campdrafting in Australia. In fact, around 1,800 campdrafters compete over about six days of competition at the end of October every year in Warwick, with very decent prize money being spread about.
Campdrafting is recognised as a national sport by the Australian Institute of Sport. The first formal campdrafting competition took place in Tenterfield at the Tenterfield Show Society's 1885 show, and the rules have remained largely the same since. The sport involves a horse and rider working cattle for a maximum score of 100 points. Twenty-six of these are allocated to the ‘cut out’, where horse and rider prove that they have a cow under control by blocking and turning it at least two or three times in the yard, or ‘camp’, that holds a minimum of six heads of sound stock. The horse and rider then take the cow out of the camp into a larger arena and guide it around two pegs in a particular, figure-eight, pattern before guiding it beyond and through ‘the gate’, which is two other pegs placed closer together. Horse work is allocated up to a further 70 points, and the remaining four points are for the course.
One of the competitors who has recently demonstrated her excellent skill and horsemanship is Shari Knudsen. In April 2015 Shari took the Australian Campdraft Association Champion Lady Rider title with a score of 90.5. Six months later, in October, she went on to win the Australian Stockman’s Saddlery and Vanderfield Hino Ladies' Silver Cup at the Warwick Rodeo. On that occasion, she rode Miley Stylish, six years old at the time, and they scored 86 in the first round and 87 in the final, for a two-round score of 173; it was a great year for this mother of two. Shari loves how a campdrafting competition is a ‘hard thing to conquer, with so many factors that could go wrong’, as the rider has to have the right horse for the event, pick the right cow from the mob (one that will run fast but not too fast for the horse), and be in control during the challenging, fast-paced event. The sport is a great leveller, and it is not uncommon for a horse and rider team that scores well in the first round to miss out on reaching the finals due to the next choice of cow not working out. Shari thinks that not being able to predict an event’s results is precisely ‘one of the reasons why people keep coming back’.
Shari is originally from Miriam Vale, in the Gladstone area. She was ‘born and bred on the land’, and comes from a line of campdrafting champions, as both her grandfather and great-grandfather have been winners of the prestigious Warwick Gold Cup, that ‘Melbourne Cup of Campdrafting’. It is not surprising that Shari was able to ride before walking, and her family of six participated in campdrafting arenas in different ways. Shari herself did ‘a lot of Show jumping, won a few state titles and dabbled in a few juvenile events’ before meeting her future husband, Peter, who also grew up on the back of a horse. Peter, his father, Wayne Knudsen, and his three brothers, Darcy, Rick and Ken, with their families, are well-known Chinchilla (and Taroom) cattle breeders and handlers, and campdrafting is a way of life for all of them. In fact, the National Museum of Australia website, on its Warwick Campdraft page, features, amongst photos of other great riders and horses, a photo of Peter riding Xena during the competition, and another one of some of the 2013 Gold Cup finalists including Shari on Bella Mia next to her sister in law Jackie on Talk About Design. Having got serious about campdrafting after she married Peter, Shari attributes a lot of her success to the help from him, her father-in-law Wayne and Gold Cup winner Peter O'Neill, from Roma. Shari and Peter are carrying on the family tradition with their two children, Mac and Hayley. Once the work is done at their property, Coondarra, all of them head off together to different events, around 20 per year, where the children currently participate in the junior categories and Shari and Peter enter in various competitions, including against each other. The atmosphere at these events is great for families. Shari points out that ‘everyone helps everyone else, and campdrafters are amongst the best of people to be around.’ It’s a busy life, though, with some pretty late nights travelling to and from events as well, but they have a good routine going and they are a good team that knows how to support each other. As Shari puts it, they are ‘a very well-oiled machine’.
In order to keep up with the exercising of their horses, Shari and Peter decided to set up a horse walker on their property. Having that installation keeps the horses well-conditioned and saves their riders quite a bit of time. Another time-saving strategy is to have a trailer to camp and travel in, so that there is no need to pack and unpack every time. To cart all their gear around, they now have a Hino truck, something Peter has always wanted, and they find Hino to be ‘a good, reliable truck that has never given any trouble’. It’s an automatic, 480hp, 700 series Hino and Shari notes that ‘it has a lot of power and is beautiful to drive’. The truck gets serviced by the Vanderfield Hino team in Toowoomba, three hours away from their home, but Shari explains that the fair way they travel for this purpose is well worth their while, since ‘the service is great and done in a good period of time; we know that they will fit us in and not keep us waiting’.
Numerous campdrafting events are planned for 2016, including the Warwick Rodeo and Campdraft on October 24th to 30th. Whether you decide to participate by being a spectator, a volunteer, or, like the Knudsen family, competitors, and even if, as a competitor, the cow you pick lets you down, it is highly likely that you, your family and your friends old and new will be ‘hooked’ by this great, fast-growing Australian sport. We would certainly encourage you to join in if you haven’t already because, as countless people have experienced, campdrafting will lure you in and you are certain to want to come back for more. And for all your Hino needs and enquiries, ring Vanderfield on 1300 VANDER.