Upper Horton’s proud Campdraft and Rodeo history

March 9, 2011

 The Upper Horton New Year Rodeo and Campdraft has a long and colourful history. This year’s event was a huge success, drawing competitors from all over Australia and New Zealand. The Advocate has been looking into the history of this iconic event.

The New Year event has been held every year, in one form or another, since 1946. It has seen many changes over the years, but has always been supported by the “local” community, which extends beyond the immediate area of Upper Horton to the Horton Valley, Trevallyn, Rocky Creek, Pallal and Barraba communities.

Long term resident of Upper Horton, Max Kelly, (now retired to Barraba) whose forebears settled at Cobraball in the Horton Valley in 1900, told the Advocate that the first Upper Horton horse sports day held at New Year was a one day gymkhana.

It was organised in an attempt to pay back the balance of a bank loan which had been taken out to build a golf club house at Upper Horton.

The club house is still on the ground between the cattle yards and the new amenities block. The sum owing was 800 pounds and the four trustees of the golf club, one of whom was Max’s grandfather, Richard Kelly, were being called upon to repay the debt, which had been outstanding since before World War II. 

According to Lindsay Hagan of Upper Horton, the “club” started under a tree, where in the early days, beer was served from a keg  brought from Mackenzie’s of Barraba and kept cool under wet bags. Those playing sport or maintaining the grounds partook of the refreshment.

Lindsay remembers as a six or seven year old mowing the ring on a little Ferguson tractor.

“I couldn’t reach the pedals, so Dad used to do the first round and then I drove round and round until I was close to the middle, when dad would come out and finish it off.”

In the 1930s there was a nine hole golf course at Upper Horton, with the first tee where the Sports Club now stands and the first green on the river bank.  The ninth green was up near the Anglican Church. Stock kept the grass down, with the greens fenced off with a double wire with a gate to let the golfers through!

During the war the golf course fell into disrepair. There was an attempt to revive it after the war but for some years it remained only a 3 hole practice course until it finally closed.

Originally, all the sports at the Horton were held inside the recreation ground, including tennis, cricket and the horse sports.

There was no ring for the first gymkhana, however subsequently one was constructed using a length of rope and a single furrow plough to draw the circle from the centre.

Yards and chutes were constructed over the years. Max remembers that at least five different configurations were tried, attempting to perfect the design and efficiency.

The one day horse event drew competitors from a wide area, many riding down to the Horton to compete from as far away as Rocky Creek and Pallal Creek to the west and Barraba to the south, often with more than one horse.

To ride such a distance for a one day event was part of life. It was a far shorter distance than the regular job to drove cattle to Barraba to be loaded onto the train to Sydney for sale.

There were only about 20 to 30 competitors in the early days of the competition. Max recalled the story about Bill Faulkner who droved 17 horses from Barraba to compete in the gymkhana.

Bill told Max’s father that “I won’t win anything but we’ll make some dust!” In the early days of the buckjumpers, the horses were caught in the ring and rigged up with the flank strap before the brave competitor climbed aboard!

The year 1955 saw the amalgamation of the rodeo, the cricket and the tennis clubs to form the Upper Horton Sports Club, which was granted a liquor licence in the same year. Max was Secretary of the Cricket Club at the time. He said he brought 25 pounds to the new club from the cricket section. 

Terry Kelly was the first club President and Athol Hagan was the first Club Manager. Terry served as President for 21 years while Athol served as Manager for 25 years. Barry Madden used to help at New Year as a barman.  Barry, who was a shearer then,  used to come home for Christmas.  He would help at the sports over New Year before knocking off at midday on New Year’s Day to drive to the next shed to start work again on the 2nd. 

According to Bill Kelly, Terry was a good leader, who loved being involved. He gained the support of the community, while always inviting politicians and other noteworthy people to the Sports Day. He had quite a reputation for securing support, both financial and physical, for the event.

There are many stories of the sports over the years. Bruce King told the Advocate that Reg Kelly and Bruce’s father, Norman King were standing in front of the chutes on one occasion, when a buckjumper came around the fence. Reg attempted to push Norman out of the way of the horse but they were both flattened!

When Reg was Club President,  there was a beer strike. Reg took his own truck down to Mudgee to bring a load of “Mudgee Mud” back to the Horton. There was not going to be “a pub with no beer” at the Horton!

In 1962 the “Bushman’s Rodeo” as it was called then, was opened by the Hon Bill Chaffey, MLC who said in his speech that “horsemanship was in keeping with the high standard he had come to expect at Upper Horton.”

Bill Kelly told the Advocate that in those days, everyone could ride a horse and a bullock! Horses were part and parcel of life. A number of properties ran the club’s buckjumpers through the year, bringing them down at New Year for the event.

The Kelly family has a long history of involvement with the Club and the Sports Days.

Max’s brother, John Kelly won the Gentleman Rider title year after year at Upper Horton, which is not surprising, as he won the same title at the Sydney Royal Easter Show nine years in a row. He was an accomplished all rounder who competed in showjumping, campdrafting, as well as clowning and showing off his training skills, having ponies lie down for him in the ring. Other members of the family found mischief!

Bruce King related the story of Terry Kelly in the 1950s. Terry made a chariot to harness to one of the unbroken horses.

He rode round the ring in the chariot,  cracking his whip and entertaining the crowd. He was able to detach himself from the chariot with a release pin if he needed to. 

According to Sue Capel, in the 1950s and 60s, the New Year horse sports was a much more social event than it is today.

It grew into a one day show kind of event before moving into the rodeo events of riding buckjumpers and bullocks. Campdrafting is a more recent development.

The local ladies were also very much involved with the Sports Day. In earlier years, helpers included Gwen Hagan, Iris Simpson, Dorothy Steiger and Mid Cummins who ran drinks stalls and prepared lunches. 

The history of the Upper Horton New Year Sports and the Upper Horton Club is also a record of the lasting involvement of the families of the district.

A number of families have featured through four generations including the Kelly, McDouall and King and Southwell and Parsons families.

In 1964 the new Upper Horton Sports Club was opened, using funds raised at the original clubhouse.

Campdrafting has become very popular in the last 20 years with the dressage, jumping and sporting events disappearing from the program. Bill Kelly proudly says that the sports have never been called off due to the weather.

“We have always been able to source our cattle locally due to the wonderful support from the community,” he said.