Last weekend, a herd of visiting American bison spent three days roaming Bangalow Showground. It was an impressive sight for those unsuspecting residents who found themselves inside a scene from Dances with Wolves while on their routine stroll to get a coffee. But what were these big fellas doing here?
These shaggy visitors had a job to do – help train local horse-riders in the art of campdrafting. Campdrafting is a popular rural Aussie sport in which a rider selects a beast from a herd of cattle, drives it out of the cattle yard, and directs it (often at warp speed) around a set course.
With their horses ready, 15 riders embraced the opportunity to work up close and personal with these most unusual of animals, and receive expert instruction from Kendall Neilson and his team.
Kendall – the NSW-based bison owner/trainer and accomplished campdrafter – explained: ‘There’s a growing demand to use bison, rather than cattle, for training riders and horses in campdrafting. These bison can be slowed down to train beginners, but then also be sped up to challenge the most experienced of campdrafters. This adjustable pace of the bison makes for a very effective and safe training method compared to using cattle.’ Caitlin Olive, the youngest participant (eight years old) at the Clinic, recounted: ‘It was pretty exciting to be working with a bison – especially as the one I got was so much bigger than both me and my horse. I was looking up at him the whole way – and yet we still got him out of the yard and around the course.’
Local horseriding instructor and competitive campdrafter Zoe Olive from Tintenbar organised Kendall’s Bison Clinic in Bangalow. ‘I knew it would be such a brilliant chance for riders of all levels – myself included – to practise the fundamental skills of campdrafting. At this clinic, Kendall and his team trained a group of people that ranged from weekend riders to expert campdrafters – and every single person has improved their riding. The horses too have gained enormously from the experience, by working with these steady bison.’
Zoe is already planning to organise a second bison clinic at Bangalow Showground. Once the clinic was over, Kendall reflected that it ‘was a hugely successful training weekend; and awesome to visit the northern rivers. We’d love to come back again soon and provide some more training with our bison. Let’s do it.’
~ Photos Ivan Holland