4 October 2023

Young couple clinch titles at prestigious King of the Ranges stockman's challenge

| Edwina Mason
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A mum and dad and their two children - a girl and boy - and two stockhorses posing in a horse arena

King and Queen of the Ranges winners Kieran and Christie Davidson with their children, Hallie, 3, and Hunter, 5. Photo: Bengalla King of the Ranges/Facebook.

With little to no time for preparation, Young’s Kieran and Christie Davidson clinched the winning titles at the most prestigious stockman’s challenge in the state – the Bengalla King of the Ranges event at Murrurundi in the NSW Hunter Valley – making them the King and Queen of the Ranges.

Fresh out of the saddle from three months of droving cattle along the district’s back roads, the pair snagged last-minute entries, sorted their cattle into paddocks, set off on the seven-hour journey and had set up camp at Rosedale Horse Complex in a matter of days.

Three days later, they returned home having defeated some of the best and toughest male and female competitors on the eastern seaboard in the Open and Ladies’ divisions, which was no cinch, excuse the pun, but certainly remarkable.

Kieran reckons “King and Queen” sounds a bit cheesy, but what’s in a name when you top one of Australia’s most gruelling horse performance events?

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Like the Man from Snowy River, Battle on the ‘Bidgee and South Australia’s Lower Lakes challenges, the King of the Ranges Stockman’s Challenge showcases the traditional skills of Australian stockmen and women over an exciting and intense three-day event.

Here, competition is fierce to accumulate points for cattle work, packhorse work, bareback riding, target whip cracking, horseshoeing and cross-country jumping.

Finalists further display skill and courage in catching and leading a wild horse and riding a buckjumper to determine who will be the 2023 King and Queen of the Ranges.

Its genesis lay in Upper Hunter stockmen who competed in the Man from Snowy River Stockman’s Challenge in Corryong.

Enthused by the concept, volunteers formed the King of the Ranges Stockman’s Challenge with a mission to preserve and bring to public attention the traditional skills of Australian stockmanship and bushcraft.

This was exemplified by Archie ”Bung” McInnes (1885-1940), known far and wide as the ”King of the Ranges” for his ability to track and catch wild brumbies and cattle in the ranges around the Upper Hunter and his ability to ride a buckjumper.

Neither Kieran nor Christie is new to stockman’s challenges and they’re certainly formidable forces.

Both rich in equestrian pedigree, they met at Gundagai’s annual Battle on the ‘Bidgee, they say, too long ago for them to remember exactly, but the wins between them are also too numerous to count.

A man on horseback in a horse arena with a wild horse he has just caught

In the finals, Kieran was required to catch and lead a wild horse before competing in the buckjump, where he said he was “rissoled”. Photo: Joan Faras.

And it would be hard to top being the Man from Snowy River, which Kieran has been, except if you are Australia’s greatest horsewoman, which Christie currently is.

Today their tribe numbers four with the addition of Hunter, 5, and Halley, 3, who are giving their usually unshakable parents grey hairs as they tear around the paddocks of their Tubbul home.

Life for all of them is lived amid livestock and grazing. When they’re not farmers, there’s sheep and cattle work or they’re mucking around in the arena with the horses or travelling – the horse truck and caravan in tow – all over the state.

Christie’s parents, Steve and Michelle Connor, take the team to six. Steve is a celebrated horseman who raised his three children on horseback at their rugged Taralga property, and who at 58 is still taking the hard knocks in challenges, while Michelle, according to Kieran, wrangles the two grandchildren.

“She’s the backbone of the operation,” Kieran said of Michelle.

It works, says Kieran, and Christie concurs, because theirs is a way of life that flows from one thing to another.

“If I’m out droving for three months, that’s me working the horse, that’s me preparing,” Kieran said. “There’s nothing special in that, it’s just what we do every day and we love it.

“It’s not without its challenges, but Christie and I do everything together and go everywhere together. We’re a good team and the kids are now part of that – it just works.

”And it sounds strange to say it, but there’s nothing better than to have them cheering on from the side of the arena, that’s what it’s all about these days.

“It’s definitely a lifestyle we hope they will embrace further down the line.”

A woman on horseback in an arena catching a wild horse

Christie also competed in the finals event. Photo: Joan Faras.

Sooner than they think: Christie had to borrow her horse Arnie from Hunter for the King of the Ranges, which he was not impressed about, but Kieran said he soon buttered him up with the promise of a crack at the billy goat cart races.

Their champion stockhorses, Slide Aside Cowboy (Arnie) and Edenvale Orion (Trev), also took out the highest point-score Australian Stock Horse awards, so it’s likely Hunter will grab that ribbon for his wall.

Although they haven’t decided whether they will compete in the upcoming Battle on the ‘Bidgee, that is one competition Christie says is much more relaxed and fun.

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Held on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River at Gundagai on the weekend of 6-8 October, the three-day challenge includes two days of preliminary events: stock handling, packhorse, whip crack, dry work pattern, bareback obstacle, horseshoeing and cross country.

On day three of the challenge, the top 10 Open competitors take part in a wild horse catch and poley buckjump.

The top five female entrants will also compete in a wild horse catch and a working cow horse event, while the top five juniors will battle it out in a time trial and steer catch.

For more details on Battle on the ‘Bidgee, visit the website.

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