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Al Prefers to Work his Horses on Bison

While hundreds of camp-drafters across the country focus on working cattle to maintain their horses’ peak condition for that upcoming competition, Manilla’s Al Sullivan prefers to work his handful of horses on bison.

Al, along with wife of seven years Kate and sons Joe (5) and Jack (3), run his horses, bison and working dogs on their property outside Manilla. Al though has rea- sons for opting to use bison instead of cattle.

The place here isnít big enough to run the number of cattle we require to work all our horses, and cattle tend to sour whereas bison have a lot more stamina and can be educated into a pattern. I can easily work a dozen horses on the three bison we have, he said.

Bison are more predictable than cattle, so you can create your own situation with them. If you want him to go slow, then you go wider around. If you want to quicken up, just close in on him and heíll speed up.They have to be maintained properly, but theyíre great, each has his own little personality.

Al sources his bison from good mate Kendel Neilson of Dungog ñ Alís hometown.

He gets them from a Victorian breeder as weaners, starts and educates them before theyíre sold off to people like myself.

Al though will admit that droving/contract mustering is his happy place. Heís been campdrafting since he was eight (legal age for competitive campdrafting), no doubt instilled in him by his dad Paul Sullivan who competed and educated horses around Dungog for many years.

After leaving school, Al completed a builderís apprenticeship, but the pull of the bush found him saddled up and contract mustering around Moree before moving on to Scone for saleyards/contract mustering work, then onto Boggabri for droving with his big team of horses and dogs.

I really enjoyed those days ñ on the road with horses, dogs and cat- tle. It was a great lifestyle ñ no TV or phone and everything cooked on the open fire.

After Boggabri, Al spent five years working with wellknown cutting/campdrafting horseman Jack Gallagher atBundarra.ìHeís a top horseman, I learned a lot on draft ing, training campdrafters and general life skills from him.

Al also branched out a little into the cutting arena, learning many of its skills from well-known cutter Phil Dawson ñ skills he believes helps with the foundation of camp- drafting horses. He did several cut- ting shows too with Phil, even raking in a Rookie title one year.

Al has spent the last nine years juggling his love of campdraft train- ing/competing, contract mustering and breeding working dogs with his job as excavator/dozer operator at the Boggabri mines.

The shiftwork really suits me, I can work with the horses or do some mustering on my days off, he said.

Then on weekends heíll pack Kate, the boys and eight horses onto the truck for a campdraft somewhere in the area ñ though the Sullivan name has been posted on the winnerís list at drafts as far north as Rockhampton, and south in NSW to the Victorian border. Al has even finalled twice in the prestigious Warwick Gold Cup Campdraft. Next on the familyís calendar is KPH Tamworth Golden Guitar Campdraft on October 31, which boasts an overall prize purse of $90,000 ñ with $35,000 going to the winner. Alís hoping to start three in the feature.

Al considers campdrafting to be a ìtop family sportî where all members can compete.

Kate and I compete. The boys are too young yet, but we still take their ponies so they can ride around. If they get tired of that, they can hop off and play in the dirt. Horses are the best babysitters ever, he joked.

By Vinnie Todd