The modern day Man from Snowy River hasn’t been feeling too sprightly lately, but he’s still up to the challenge of defending his title when the time comes.
Hopping around his farm near Young for the past couple of months, Kieran Davidson has been lamenting an incident involving a horse that left him with a broken leg.
Unflinchingly daring, confident and manifestly cheeky, this is a horseman who exemplifies those who inspired Australian bush poet AB ‘Banjo’ Patterson.
To watch Kieran ride, he’s more Charlie McKeahnie than Jack Riley – both of who were believed to be the inspiration for Paterson’s The Man From Snowy River. But there’s a good smattering of the conviviality, dash and colour of Paterson’s other buddy, Breaker Morant. And then the twinkle of a diamond in the rough, which is Kieran’s grandfather, Maurice “Tiger” Hunter – one of the district’s best horsemen, and a legend in his own time.
For a lad whose childhood was filled with galloping adventure on the South West Slopes, it took the mountains and an equally good horsewoman to tame Kieran’s restless ways.
But it took a mob of cattle and a flat road to bring him unstuck.
“The horse slipped on grass and fell on my leg,” he says. “It was pathetic.”
The irony is not lost on him.
A little less hopping might have meant a Christmas visit to the Snowy Mountains for Kieran, his wife, Christy (nee Connor), and their two children. Instead – confined to quarters as the leg rebelled with an infection – the call of the wild had to wait.
But now the young couple have their eyes firmly set on the calendar with news that the 25th annual Man from Snowy River Bush Festival is set to go ahead in April after being forced to cancel in 2020 because of COVID-19.
The four-day festival, set for 8-11 April, 2021, is held just across the Victorian border at Corryong and celebrates Australia’s traditional bush heritage with more than 40 events.
Flagship events include the three-day Man from Snowy River Challenge; the five-day Riley’s Ride through remote trails following the historic footsteps of Jack Riley; the Man from Snowy River Rodeo; and a live re-enactment of Banjo Paterson’s famous poem, The Man from Snowy River.
Then there’s camping, glamping, bush poetry, art and photography, a street parade, bush markets, crafts, trade stalls, working cattle dog championships, and an equine education arena to round out the mix.
But it’s the three-day Man from Snowy River Challenge that Kieran and Christy have their sights set on.
A test of good horsemanship – which highlights the special relationship between horse and rider – the annual quest to find the modern day Man from Snowy River began in 1995.
The skill of today’s Australian stockmen and women are on display as they compete in the six gruelling preliminary events set to challenge the most skilled and professional horse and rider teams.
Stock and packhorse handling, whip cracking, bareback riding, horse shoeing and cross-country, brumby catch and buck jumping complete the suite of challenge events.
The top 10 scoring riders move forward from the preliminary events to take centre stage on the Sunday and earn their place in the final events.
Year after year, the strength and depth of competition has increased and with a huge prize pool up for grabs the competition is hard fought and intense.
The stakes are higher this year with the winner’s prize money increased to $25,000 for the 2021 Silver Anniversary year of the event.
Neither Kieran or Christy are novices. Kieran is the incumbent champion, and Christy has taken out the women’s challenge four times. Their names sit among the who’s who of mountain riders who hail from places such as Tooma, Tumut and Omeo.
Kieran says he’s not sure what the competition will bring, but he is determined to “smash it” despite recent physical limitations.
“It normally takes months of preparation and training, but I don’t have that this year so I’m just going to have to wing it,” he says.
“I’ll give it my best shot anyway,” he laughs, before hopping across the yards to help sort cattle.
Tickets to the Man From Snowy River Bush Festival are now on sale. More details can be found here.