Dynamic duo of campdraft
THIS is the story of a man and his horse, Laurie Stephenson and Blue Moon Mystic.
Both are champions, each a legendary figure in the Australian Stock Horse (ASH) Hall of Fame at Longreach, where horse and rider are featured in a giant photograph.
The great campdraft stallion Blue Moon Mystic could hardly have arrived at a less opportune time ? born on the day in 1972 that the horse's owner, Laurie Stephenson, buried his father, Charlie Stephenson.
It was not a happy time for Laurie and wife Elaine but the grey stock horse born that day and generally referred to by the shortened name of Mystic, became a champion under the riding and guidance of Laurie.
Mystic is not just one of the nation's best campdrafting horses. He is also a renowned sire of top horses ? campdrafters, show performers and polo ponies ? including some of the best in the Kerry Packer polo stables.
Mystic, magnificent performer and sire of champions ? now in his 33rd year ? has been, as well as a champion, a revered friend of the Stephensons, something special.
Like many trainers of thoroughbred gallopers Laurie Stephenson gave Mystic time to mature and develop before trying him out in the campdrafting arena.
Campdrafting is a uniquely Australian event and has a long history, with the first held 120 years ago at Tenterfield.
Mystic was bred through mating two well-performed campdrafters, Abbey and the mare Betty.
"Just how many victories Abbey had I am not too sure, but the dam Betty won in excess of 40 drafts," Laurie said.
Laurie employed his own tutoring methods to take Mystic to undeniable champion status in this working sport, an event that shadows the true cattle working horse to the highest degree.
To put it simply, horse and rider combine as one to herd a bullock though a set course and pen it safely in the quickest time possible.
Mystic, with Laurie in the saddle, has won numerous competitions, 38 open drafts alone and together they combined to win the greatest campdrafting event, the one referred to by horsemen as the Melbourne Cup of campdrafting, the Warwick Gold Cup. That magnificent win was in 1980 after three days of tough competition at the famous Warwick Rodeo in Queensland.
As well as the trophy, the money and the fame that goes with the title, Laurie won a Daily Examiner Sports Star of the Week Award and ultimately The Daily Examiner 1980 Sports Star of the Year title from a gala field of sporting personalities.
Laurie and Mystic also teamed to win the Canning Downs Cut Out in 1983 and the Canning Downs Open Campdraft of 1988, these two events regarded as second only to the Warwick Gold Cup.
Mystic is the only stallion to have won all three classics. He is the only Warwick Gold Cup winner to have sired a Warwick Gold Cup winner. That was Ashanta, ridden by Stephen Hill, manager of Hanging Rock Station, to win the cup in 1995.
Another of Mystic's progeny, Chantelle, was ridden by Glen Innes horsewoman Megan Rogan to win the Warwick Rodeo Women's Campdraft championship in 1999.
Bernadette Smyth, of Bendemeer, repeated the feat on another of Mystic's daughters, Angel, in 2000.
The Stephensons are also proud of yet another of Mystic's crop, Blue Gum, which represented Japan at showjumping in equestrian competition at two Olympic Games, at Barcelona, Spain in 1992 and Atlanta, USA in 1996.
Mystic's awards and trophies in the Far North Coast zone are too numerous to mention in total but he was ABCRA Novice Horse of the Year in 1977 and Open Horse of the Year on four occasions, 1979, 1980, 1983 and 1984.
However, there was one classic, the World Championship Campdraft, that evaded Laurie and Mystic, be it only narrowly, twice runners-up and twice third in four attempts in the big event at the annual Sydney Royal Easter Show.
However, Laurie did win the title in 1959 riding Mystic's later-to-be dam, Betty, for a record 91 points.
Mystic overall won 43 campdrafts with 38 of them in open class.
Now an amazing 33-year-old and a miracle survivor some years ago of a bite from an eastern brown snake, Mystic is still siring top-rate offspring although these days is aided by refrigerated-stored semen given to mares by artificial insemination.
Mystic lives in the paddock where he was born at the property named in his honour, Mystic Park, the home of the Stephensons at Mylneford.
The property stands beside the Clarence River 20kms upstream from Grafton.
Laurie and Elaine are Mystic's best friends and the great horse comes frequently to the homestead kitchen window for an affectionate pat and to say his hello.
There were times in which Laurie was not able to compete as rider, amazingly having three triple-heart bypass operations, the first in 1982 when he was 48 years old and similar life saving surgery followed in 1993 and 1994.
On top of that he survived a stroke a few years back although talking to him these days he appears to be showing no serious ill effects.
Laurie Clifford Stephenson was born at Grafton's Runymede Hospital in February 1934, the second son of Charles (Charlie) and Muriel (nee Cameron) Stephenson.
The Stephensons lived at Barretts Creek homestead, an outpost of the famous Sid Field-owned, 78,000 acres Gordonbrook Station, where Charlie was head stockman.
Laurie and older brother Kelvin had their early schooling at Coaldale Public.
"Same as me, Kelvin loved horses and the two of us would ride the 12 miles round trip each day from home to attend lessons," Laurie said.
"Our main sports at school were cricket and tennis along with the occasional game of rounders and the annual athletic carnival."
Later Laurie attended Grafton High School and in third year, 1949, passed the Intermediate Certificate.
"During those three years I would catch the cream truck early Monday mornings to Grafton High School, where my bike would be stored," he said.
"Each afternoon after school I would ride the bike to my grandparents, Bill and Cecilia Cameron's farm at Koolkhan, where I boarded during the week. Then on Fridays after school I would catch the cream truck back to Barretts Creek.
"I loved to get home so I could do more horse riding which I loved. I have always been happy on a horse, whether dealing with cattle, getting to any destination, competing or just riding for the sheer pleasure.
"Our dad, Charlie, worked cattle all his life but never competed personally in events although he loved horse racing and usually attended the picnic races around the area.
"He owned and prepared a few runners and took them to the picnic meetings at bush tracks such as Coaldale, Fineflour, Baryulgil, Jackadgery, Copmanhurst and South Grafton.
"As well as the races there would be a program of pony events and Kelvin and I would ride our horses there, often leading another, and compete in events such as flag, bending, barrel and pony racing, the jumps and the boy rider classes.
"We would even try our luck and skill on foot in the crowd-pleasing catch the greasy pig contests, no doubt the hardest event of the day."
After completing studies at Grafton High, Laurie returned to Barretts Creek and worked as a stockman at Gordonbrook Station and then in 1954 did army National Service at Ingleburn Army Camp. It was in 1954 that Laurie, aged 20, contested his first campdraft.
It was at the Baryulgil Sports Day and he rode two horses, a brown mare Patty for a friend and a gelding called Bobbie, which Charlie owned. He did not achieve any placings in the maiden and novice competitions that day but he did have success at the next outing at the Ulmarra Rodeo in November, at which he rode Patty to win the novice draft and bought another horse, Abbey, for $30 to save it from pet shop butchery. Laurie's campdrafting career was on its way.
Laurie married Grafton lass and Terras Hockey Club A-grade player Elaine Rogan, daughter of Harry and Daphne Rogan, at Grafton's Christ Church Cathedral in August 1959. They went to live at a cottage at Gordonbrook Station, where Laurie was a stockman .
"Although Elaine never competed, she was always there to support me, and without her I could never have accomplished what I have," Laurie said.
In 1962 when Gordonbrook Station was sub-divided and sold, Laurie and Elaine bought property at Mylneford, which they made into a hereford cattle breeding and a horse breeding stud.
The property did not have a name at that early stage but after some time was named Mystic Park in honour of their champion campdrafting horse and sire.
For 14 years, 1965 to 1979, Laurie worked for the Department of Agriculture as a stock inspector and inspector in charge of the tick quarantine areas at Liston, North Casino, Kyogle, Tabulam, Bonalbo, Kempsey, Grafton, Copmanhurst and Rappville.
He later was employed by the Grafton City Council as a ganger and with a team of four helped plan and build the South Grafton Rodeo Ground and then was a plant operator until his retirement in 2001.
Because of his long association with horses Laurie Stephenson has always been in demand for coaching and for judging events. His valued services have been recognised with life membership of the Big River Campdraft Club at South Grafton.