Every year, in early May, the little town of Scone in New South Wales lights up. As the horse capital of Australia, the Scone Horse Festival is one of the best times of year to come and discover how things are done in the country.
We love visiting rural areas of Australia. Finding that lost connection between the city and the countryside is fascinating. Mrs Romance and I recently visited the little gem of a country town called Scone, about 3 ½ hours north of Sydney.
We’ve found that – under that quiet, sometimes stoic exterior, these little Aussie towns have a big heart that beats hard and fast – you just have to find out what raises the pulse.
With Scone (pronounced so it rhymes with ‘stone’ by the way; never “sconn”), it’s all about the horses. Yes, the money from nearby mining projects have stimulated the town, but it’s the horse breeders – the stud – that really makes this place tick.
So when we heard that the biggest horse town in the country – in fact the second biggest horse stud town in the world – was having its annual horse festival, we couldn’t wait to check it out.
The festival runs over 15 days in early May each year, but we were only here for the weekend. Still, we were soon to discover that even such a short time will give you a great taste of what Scone’s all about.
What did we see and do?
There’s plenty to do over the Scone Horse Festival. The festival ball (a.k.a. the Australian Stock Horse Society Horse Festival Ball) marks the start of the festival proper and is worth a look. You need to book tickets to this one.
The Horse Parade
A real show of the community spirit, the parade includes everyone from the town’s polo team and the mounted military and police to schools, community groups and even auto clubs.
The procession takes over the entire main street and literally stops traffic. There are MCs like this fella on the roof of the Royal Hotel announcing participants as they go by – we really enjoyed this part of the festival.
Think incredibly tough men working with white-hot braziers and hammering white-hot metal into horseshoes. There’s a creative element to the competition as well as ‘hot-shoeing’ horses. It’s amazing to see watch this much overlooked craft in action.
A little-known element of horsemanship, tentpegging goes back to when mounted military efforts would descend on an enemy encampment and wreak havoc by cutting down tents. These days, riders spear pegs stuck in the ground as they ride past. The competitors make it look easy but I get the feeling it’s not.
The crowd-pleaser, the rodeo is a range of different skills on horseback. Rope and tie, bronc riding, bullriding… it’s a lot of fun and some impressive skills are on display here.
One of Australia’s oldest, Scone Polo Club is an institution – figuratively and literally! They now also have the first ever all-woman polo competition here.
Watching the polo is a pretty low-key layout and about as country as you can get. Of course, there’s a licensed bar and food available, but the clubhouse is pretty open plan and rustic!
Obviously not directly part of the equestrian festivities but a bettable race nonetheless. Tucked away in the courtyard of the Royal Hotel on the corner of Kelly St and St Aubins St – conveniently across the road from our hotel actually!
Watch the racing piglets hurtle round a track to get to the bowl of food in the middle. It’s so funny – especially when they sound the bugle call to start the race, the piggies all know what’s going on and get very excited and swarm the start line!
Where did we eat?
There are quite a few options for food in Scone, which is a pleasant surprise for its size. There’s the ubiquitous Chinese restaurant of course, and there are enough pubs and the RSL to keep you fat and fed.
But if you’re looking for a really great feed, The Cottage is the only place you need to know about.
This beautifully renovated old guesthouse is now an epicentre for superbly cooked steak. The hanging room for the meat means the beef is all dry-aged to perfection and the wine list, service and ambience matches. We’ve got more to say about this place, but suffice to say if you come to Scone and don’t eat here, you’re really missing out.
Where did we stay?
The festival is a very popular time of year, so finding accommodation can be tricky. We stayed at INN Scone, a boutique hotel with three one-bed apartments and a cottage that sleeps 4 right in the heart of Scone.
The apartment we had was perfect for what we needed. A fully equipped kitchenette, a good size bathroom, a cosy courtyard, the all-important free wifi and the comfiest bed imaginable.
The location of this place really made it a win too; seconds from the main street and a quick 10-minute walk to White Park where all the rodeo fun happens.
Scone is one of those places carefully dotted around the Australian countryside that, until you spend a bit of time here, you could just drive through in under a minute and think nothing more of it.
But if you do, you’re missing out on a whole spectrum of experiences and memories that’ll stay with you for a long time.
Have you ever been to Scone? Have you ever heard of tentpegging?! Have you ever been to a rodeo? Tell us about it in the comments!