The nearest small town to Ellerston is Scone, known as the Horse Capital of Australia. I was fortunate enough to coincide this visit with the annual Scone and Upper Hunter Horse Festival (running from April 30 to May 16), so we have been following some of the events.
Last weekend, we watched Neil play polo in a tournament. This is played over the three weekends of the festival and the teams are picked from a hat, to make them as even as possible. Ellerston uses this as an opportunity to play some of their younger horses to give them polo experience. Unfortunately, Neil's team didn't make the final, but the match we saw was very exciting. They were down 5 to 1 in the final chukka, but, thanks to a supreme effort by Neil, they managed to score 4 more goals to draw even.
Neil, playing number three, leaps into action.
This Sunday, we went to watch the finals of the 'King of the Ranges' at Murrurundi. This competition is named after Archie "Bung" McInnes, who was known as the 'King of the Ranges' for his expertise in tracking and catching wild horses (known in Australia as 'Brumbies'), and mustering cattle. He worked the ranges around Glenrock Station, about 30 km further into the hills from Ellerston, so he was very much a local of these parts. Archie joined the Ist Battalion Light Horse at the outbreak of the First World War, and was seriously wounded during the Battle of Beersheba. After the war, Archie "Bung" McInnes was decorated with the Military Medal and returned to his old life in the Hunter Valley as a champion buckjumper and stockman. His memory is honoured by the 'King of the Ranges' challenge, held every year at Murrurundi.
to the horse's bridle and keep the horse under control.
The main finalists had to get a halter over the wild horse and then control it.
The contest is a real test of horsemanship. Men and women compete in 6 demanding events to prove their worth to the judges. They have to compete in cross-country riding, stock handling, shoeing a horse, leading a packhorse through a course, whip cracking, and taking part in a bare-back riding obstacle course. The judges award marks for all these events and 10 finalists are chosen, who then have to catch and control a wild brumby and ride a stock saddle buckjump (like a bucking bronco, western-style). The person who completes all the challenges successfully is named 'King of the Ranges' for the year.
This rider managed the buckjumping in style.
Along with the 'King of the Range' contest, there are many other attractions. There is a rodeo, the children's wild-goat ride, demonstrations of camp-draft, dog trials, a bush skills show, rides and sideshows, a military display and much, much more. It is an exciting time for residents of the Hunter Valley, and people come from far and wide to take part in, or watch, the events. I had a great time and would most certainly go again, given the chance!