Return to news index

Luke Bennett's Journey to the Top

Luke and Little Miss Hoorey at the Warwick Gold Cup Final in 2019. Photo: Kate Jones.

Luke and Little Miss Hoorey at the Warwick Gold Cup Final in 2019. Photo: Kate Jones.

Luke Bennett is not afraid to embrace new ideas to achieve his goals. Self-reflection has led to some light bulb moments that saw Luke take out one of the biggest prize cheques in the sport of campdrafting at the 2023 Juandah Plains campdraft. Horse Deals spoke to Luke to learn more about this talented horseman.

Age: 39

Location: Glen Innes

How did you first get involved in horses? My Mum rode show horses and was involved with the local pony club, Dad rode bulls and grew up on dairy farm. We moved to a little five-acre farm, and at that time, I started at pony club. I continued pony club until I decided it was no longer cool to wear jodhpurs at around 16 years old. From there, I went down the rodeo path and rode steers before moving onto riding bulls.

When did you discover the world of campdrafting and your interest in working with young horses? When I left high school, I moved up north and worked on a cattle station, where I broke in my first horse. The overseer there had done some Ray Hunt natural horsemanship, so that was when I was first exposed to this method. I then went to AG College at Longreach, where I met my sole mate, Sandi in the first week. I found a job breaking in endurance horses at an Arabian stud over Christmas before going back to college and undertaking the horse course at Longreach Ag College with John Arnold. I was then offered a job with Todd Graham and Huon Smith. I took the opportunity to work for Todd Graham for a few months and had the privilege at the time of starting One Stylish Pepto and One Moore Daddy - little did I know these young stallions would go on to make a mark in the performance industry. I then headed to Huon Smith and spent 18 months starting horses, competing and assisting with setting up his Boonara Creek property where he is based today.

Sandi and I decided we needed to go see the world, so with a one way ticket to Canada, we spent six months on ranches and travelling throughout the Rockies and America. A friend from college had a connection with the best 2yo trainer in Texas, Gerald Alexander who was looking for help, so off to Texas we went. We stayed in Texas for the next three years.

Gerald was in his mid-60s and needed three months off for a double knee replacement, which forced him to teach me his 30-40 years of knowledge. Gerald and I got along really well and had similar riding styles. I ended up working with him for three years. I rode some of the best two-year-old horses in Texas. Sandi and I decided that we wanted to move back to Australia to start a family and a horse training business based on the cutting industry. My father-in-law and his partner leased their two hundred-acre property near Glen Innes to us to set up our business. This property we have now purchased and we plan to stay here.

As for my interest in campdrafting, Evan and Kim Acton were looking for someone to go to the Millungera Station, Western Queensland and break in their station horses. At this time, I could see that the equestrian market was shifting, and the money and interest was in campdrafting, so that’s where I headed.

What made you pursue an equestrian career? Honestly, training horses was never something I had aspired to when I was young because I didn’t know it was a thing. I have always enjoyed having horses and my experience working with different horsemen made me really consider pursuing a career as a horse trainer. I enjoyed breaking in and riding young horses, probably because I enjoyed the thrill of it and the satisfaction of turning a breaker into a rideable handled horse.

What have been the top three highlights of your equestrian career? Competition-wise, I won the Snaffle Bit Futurity in 2013 on our family palomino mare called This Barbies Smart. A year later, I got second at the Cloncurry Challenge on her as well. Then I recently won Juandah Plains Campdraft on Millungeras Moon Beam. I have also been in the final a few times with multiple horses at Warwick Campdraft, winning the Barnes Trophy on Moon Beam, which was probably a bit of a turning point in my campdrafting career.

Millungeras Moon Beam (HSH) Willinga at Juandah Plains Campdraft 2023 Final. Photo: Jo Theime.

Millungeras Moon Beam (HSH) Willinga at Juandah Plains Campdraft 2023 Final. Photo: Jo Theime.

How did it feel taking home the 2023 Juandah Plains Campdraft win? Oh, it was pretty good! It was a relief, honestly, as I have always wanted to win a big draft, and I had a chance at winning the $100,000 at the Willinga Gold Buckle a couple of years earlier. I made it to the final, but my nerves got the better of me. This made me realise how much your mindset can affect your level of competiveness. Since focusing on my mental strength and getting the assistance I needed, I found myself winning draft after draft. It was like a light bulb moment of just how important being mentally strong and calm is! I used to find myself in finals but never being able to actually convert it to a win. Taking the win in the Open at the inaugural Willinga at Juandah Plains was a big turning point for me.

I have to ask, what did you do with the cheque? The physical cheque itself is in the tack room. I look at that most days. It’s a bit of inspiration. I have reinvested it into the facilities here at home. We have 200 acres of our own, so it went into fencing, infrastructure and the facilities.

Tell us about Millumgeras Moon Beam. Moon Beam is a 12-year-old Australian Heritage Stock Horse stallion. He is a very special horse to his owners as they bred him out of their very successful and talented mare, Kirkbys Stud Blue Moon. She was a phenomenal mare winning 27 opens in a period of many competitive campdrafters. I broke in Moon Beam and his full brother at the age of two, and at the time, Moon Beam stood out. Kim and Evan decided to geld his full brother and keep Moon Beam entire because of the talent he was showing. We took him slowly, and let him come along naturally. Moon Beam has natural ability to rate cattle. He truly is an allrounder. I have competed in the Man From Snowy River Challenge a few times and also jumped in the 1metre showjump comp at the Glen Innes Show successfully.

It wasn’t until I started riding some of his progeny that I knew he was extra special. He throws to his mother, and they are all very natural on cattle and good travellers.

Do you have any exciting young up- and-coming horses? We have a number of quality young prospects coming through our program. On the truck we have the eldest of Moon Beam progeny, Millungeras Eclipse, who has placed second in a Maiden at Inverell a few weeks ago. She turns heads everywhere she goes. Millungeras Sizzle is a five-year-old gelding which I campaigned at Cloncurry Stockmans Challenge in 2023. He was also ridden by my daughter Ella in the junior challenge. Amac Mrs Brown is another young mare which we are looking forward to bringing along into the drafting circuit later this year.

We have just started some exceptional two-year-old fillies out of well performed mares from our program, Lil Miss, Bulla Farrah and Rosa Del Rey sired by Moon Beam Metallic Cat and Daddy Who. We plan to train these fillies to attend the NCHA Futurity and then continue onto campdrafting like their mothers.

How has breaking in and training shaped you as a rider and horseman? Over the years I have started a range of horses from Arabs, Warmbloods and Thoroughbreds. Riding a variety of horses has allowed me to understand each horse individually and learn as much as I possibly can. Having the attitude of not blaming the horse, but what can I do better, has always been my focus. Following the whole process, from breaking in to training and competing, gives you a good understanding of the whole process.

I’ve learnt over the years you need to have your horse’s mind and body in sync. Liz McDonald from Gem Equine Therapy has worked on horses in my breaking in/training program over the past nine years. She has probably done anywhere from 500 to 600 of my horses over the years and I see a huge benefit in what she
can achieve.

Kaye Alexander, Gerald Alexander, Luke Bennett and Sandi Bennett, riding 2yo Silverado Texas in 2010.

Kaye Alexander, Gerald Alexander, Luke Bennett and Sandi Bennett, riding 2yo Silverado Texas in 2010.

What would you say sets your training apart? I put a solid foundation on my horses. I also understand my horses’ strengths and weaknesses. I look to myself to work through horses’ issues or weaknesses, being honest with owners and prospective buyers.

How many horses are currently on the property, and how many are at work? We currently have 12 broodmares and six yearlings, eight two-year-olds, six three to four-year-olds and 15 camphorses. At different times we have sale horses in work for the major performance horse sales.

Who is the most influential horse you’ve had, and why? Moon Beam is a wonderful horse who has so much natural ability. He has the ability to shut down a beast while travelling at speed.

Little Miss Hoorey is another mare which I had the privilege of training for the NCHA Futurity and Derby, then continued onto the campdraft arena. Lil Miss gives it her all in the cut-out, she tries so hard
every time.

How do you juggle being a dad and running a business while also competing? Campdrafting is such a family sport. Most weekends you find most of the kids together in the sandpit or at someone’s camp enjoying themselves and making long lasting friendships.

My wife has been unbelievable. I have always tried to treat it as a family sport, and whenever I would travel, I tried to take the family with me. Sandi worked with me in the States as well, so she has always been a big part of the business, riding and training the horses.

My girls, Ella (9yo) and Harper (6yo), are getting to the age now where they are more the focus, and for this I am scaling back my competitions and won’t travel as much - I’ll just pick and choose which events I go to. Both girls love riding and are addicted to horses. They attend pony club and compete in Junior and Mini drafts. Ella has a mare she is assisting in preparing for the 2024 Dalby ASH Sale.

What is it like sharing your passion for horses with the whole family? Does it come with its challenges? It’s amazing sharing my passion with horses with my family. We all enjoy getting on the road together and heading off on our next adventure. Watching our girls grow and their knowledge with horses and cattle make us extremely proud. We work as a team, whether it’s out mustering cattle, loading the horse truck, feeding up or catching horses. Both girls are now at school, so we have had to reduce the number of events they travel away to attend. Since they were young we have spent most of July in North Queensland, attending a run of events and at times starting horses at Millungera Station. We also did a trip into the Northern Territory and the Kimberley for a run of drafts. Long lasting memories. Campdrafting has kept us well travelled.

What is your advice for young up-and-coming equestrians? Do an apprenticeship and spend some time with horse trainers. It’s easy enough to ride other people’s horses, but what sets you apart is who you ride for, and who you learn off. Get knowledge from lots of different people, and that will shape you. You will get little bits out of lots of different people and then find what fits you best, and that’s what shapes how you ride. I was so lucky when I went to the States that I landed that job with Gerald. He was at the age in his life when he was slowing down, which then forced him to share 30-40 years of experience with me, which is what changed my whole path in the horse industry.

Tell us what a typical day for Luke Bennett looks like. I start around 7ish and feed the horses first thing. Then I ride a couple of horses before I head over to the neighbouring property that I manage to check cattle and do general farm maintenance. I often take some horses over there and Sandi and the girls will help with mustering and moving cattle after school or on weekends. Sometimes late in the afternoon, when the girls come home from school, we all ride together in the arena at home.

What is your long-term goal? My long-term goal would be to have five to six well-performed broodmares of our own, and we sell a couple every year that are well trained and ready to compete on. Watching the girls compete is so satisfying and fun. I would love to win Cloncurry Challenge and Warwick Gold Cup.

Enjoyed this article?
Subscribe to our email newsletter to get more articles like this straight to your inbox!

Your browser is out of date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now