General, Stories and Articles

Riley’s Ride

Riley’s Ride

Lyle and Tom took the Kent Saddlery truck to Corryong in the Autumn for the annual Man From Snowy River Bush Festival. There was a lot of interest in the Kent saddles by those who had participated in Riley’s Ride®. Riley’s Ride® is an annual 4 day trail ride through mountainous terrain. Riders spend 6 to 8 hours a day in the saddle and travel through miles of steep country as they make their way from Tom Groggin Station, nestled in the Kosciusko National park on the upper reaches of the Murray River, through breathtaking scenery back to Corryong, for the annual Festival. The Festival showcases great Australian art and poetry, with a bush Idol song contest, a ute muster, a re-enactment of Banjo Paterson’s famous poem, “The Man From Snowy River”, a camp-draft, rodeo, team-penning, loads of entertainment and the famous Man From Snowy River Challenge.

Riley’s Ride is held each year in honour of Jack Riley. Jack Riley lived at Tom Groggin station for 30 years as an employee of the Pierce family. Pierce’s main property was at Greg Greg near Corryong, and Jack came into the employment of John Pierce in 1884. He took cattle from Greg Greg to Tom Groggin Station and stayed on there to look after the cattle. Jack was a great horseman and an extremely capable mountain stockman. He was well known for his knowledge of the mountains and great sense of direction and helped many travellers find their way through the mountains over the years.

Before his employment with the Pierce family, Jack had worked as a tailor at Omeo, a skill he brought with him as a 13year old Irish emigrant. The thrill of the mountain stockman’s life and his great love of horses soon saw him turn to cattle work instead. He developed into a skilful bushman, brumby hunter and horse breaker and became a well-known and respected figure amongst the Gippsland and Snowy Mountain riders. Jack lived for many years in the Snowy River area and legend has it that in the mid 1880’s, Riley joined a party of mountain stockmen who were attempting to recapture a thoroughbred stallion that had escaped and was running with a mob of wild horses near Mount Leatherhead. A stockyard was built on a creek at the foot of Leatherhead and the mob was located, as Riley had predicted, on a high ridge.

A report on the incident relates, “when the riders closed in on the mob, the stallion broke away and galloped down a fearsome slope with Riley alone in hot pursuit. The mountainside was pitted with wombat holes, strewn with loose shale and covered with low scrub. The stallion and Riley’s pony literally tobogganed down to the bottom, where the stallion blundered into the stockyard and Riley, with the slip-rails up and stallion secured, was waiting when the rest of the riders, having taken an easier route down, arrived.”

In 1890, Walter Mitchell took a friend of his, poet A.B. “Banjo” Paterson, on a camping trip into the mountains. Accompanied by John Pierce they made their way to Jack Riley’s hut at Tom Groggin Station, where they spent the night with Jack. From here they set out with Jack guiding them to the top of Mount Kosciuszko and south along the Great Divide to the South Ram’s Head and through the head of the Cascade country to the Tin Mine and then to the very distinctive peak, the Pilot, before returning to Pierce’s mountain run. This trip and the many yarns shared by the old bushman around the campfires and the amazing scenery must have presented Banjo with a bonanza of fresh ideas and wealth of new material to work with. It is believed that this meeting with Riley, and the numerous stories told, lent inspiration to Paterson to pen his now famous poem, “The Man From Snowy River”, first published in the Sydney “Bulletin” in April, 1890.

Riley’s Ride was started in 1989 and is extremely popular. The 50 places for the ride fill as soon as they are offered each year. People bring their own horses and gear and come from all over the country including riders from every state of Australia and even the odd international rider who is lucky enough to have access to a local horse. The ride is at a leisurely pace with the emphasis being on enjoying the Australian bush, learning some of the local history and getting to know a wide variety of people who all share a love of horses and have a deep respect for the pioneering people of the upper Murray. The campfires are huge, the food is fabulous with full catering by the Corryong Rotary Club, and each evening offers great entertainment of many and varied kinds.

The steep country and long days in the saddle really sort out well fitting saddles from the not so well fitting. I am the coordinator and one of the 6 guides for the ride, and use the Kent Equaliser Western Drafter Slimline, which I swear by as far as comfort for both my horse and self goes. One of the other guides, Kate McCallum also uses a Kent saddle and this year there were quite a number of riders with Kent saddles. All of the horses using Kent saddles pulled up fine, fit and ready to ride back over the mountain again if need be which sadly couldn’t be said for many of the other horses. Many of the riders were so impressed with the difference the Kent saddles made to the horses using them, compared to their current saddles, often with well known names and larger price tags, that Lyle and Tom found themselves quite busy over the weekend with enquiries and orders from people who had participated in the ride.

We really hope that we will see the Kent truck back in Corryong for the next festival in early April so that we can enjoy a browse of all the other great quality pieces that are on offer and share the chance to see first hand the Kent saddle difference with next years Riley’s Riders.

                                                                             Natalie Mouat.
                                                                     Riley’s Ride® Coordinator.