Campdrafting: Australia’s Own Cow Horse Insanity

It’s kind of like a combination of cutting, reined cow horse and barrel racing … and yet so uniquely Australian at the same time.

Like most other cowhorse-based sports, campdrafting developed from maneuvers that working cowboys would need in the field while herding cattle. Contestants are required to cut, box and then circle a cow around two stakes and through a gate. The whole run looks like a headlong dash but actually requires careful positioning, pinpoint timing and an expert eye for cattle.

Campdrafting is a judged rather than timed event: Competitors score out of 100 points total in the three components of cut out, horse work and the course. Here’s how the scoring breaks down:

Cut out: 26 points
A small herd or “mob” of cattle is waiting in the yard or “camp,” and contestants choose their own cow, much like a cutting, so having a good eye for cattle is essential to select an animal that will best help you get the job done. The horse and rider cut their cow from the mob for a maximum score of 26. Generally, the mob contains six cattle; for junior events, it may only contain one cow to make the young contestant’s job a little easier.

Horse work: 70 points
Most of the score is made up in this section, as the horse and rider are judged on their ability to handle the cow. Similar to reined cow horse, in which contestants are required to box the cow to show control before taking it down the fence, campdrafting uses this portion of competition to demonstrate the cow ability of the horse, which will make two or three turns of the cow.

The course: 4 points
The course has the lowest total score value, but also holds the most likely opportunities to disqualify. Similar to barrel racing, the course can be run either to the left or the right as long as the two pegs are circled and the gate is traveled in the correct direction:

Course pattern, to the left. Bidgee/Wikimedia Commons

Course pattern, to the left. Bidgee/Wikimedia Commons.

The course must be completed in less than 40 seconds. That means that contestants really need to get this done at a run, but losing control of the cow twice results in disqualification, as does running the cow into the arena walls. Contestants receive two attempts at each peg, so failure to circle the cow in the correct direction or in the correct location will either quickly eat up 40 seconds or result in disqualification as well. When this part of the draft is done well, it’s absolutely beautiful to watch.

The Australian Stock Horse excels in this sport because of its athleticism, cow sense and speed. In fact, campdrafting helped the ASH get officially recognized and registered. In 1971, over 100 campdrafters and breeders came together to form the Australian Stock Horse Society.

And in case this sport just doesn’t seem Australian enough, disqualifications are announced not by a whistle, as they are in most American cow horse sports, but with the crack of a bullwhip.

Check out this video from the 2013 Australian Stock Horse National Show of the top five open runs:

Go campdrafting!

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