Australia’s famous Tom Quilty Ride is on the bucket list of endurance riders world-wide. Amanda Rayner looks back at the history of the ride, and forward to its next running as the 2014 Australian National Championships in Western Australia.
Next year the Tom Quilty Ride returns to its Western Australia roots, as the man the ride is named for lived a great part of his life in the state, working in the north-west area as a rancher and also writing some memorable poetry.
Tom Quilty was respected both as a horseman and bushman and for him long, hard rides on horseback were part of everyday life.
For Tom, 100 mile rides to post a letter or send a telegram were not uncommon before the days of the telephone or motor car. To this day Tom Quilty still holds the record for the largest freehold land acreage in Australia’s history – more than three million acres for a single property. In total he controlled more than 4.5 million acres of land.
R.M. Willliams, then the editor of Hoofs and Horns magazine and the maker of high quality, hard wearing footwear, was a good friend of Tom’s.
The first Quilty ride came about from the inspiration of R.M.Williams’ wife, when she read an article on conditioning the endurance horse in a US magazine. The author had ridden in the Tevis Cup and two weeks later competed in another 100 miler on the same horse and won.
It was thought that if the Americans could ride 100 miles, then so could Australians. An invitation through Hoofs and Horns for people interested in running the ride was put out. From there an organizing committee was formed and the Hawkesbury district near Sydney in New South Wales was settled on as the ideal location. And so in October 1966 at 1.14am from a paddock adjoining the Hawkesbury Racecourse, the first 100 mile ride in Australia was launched.
Tom Quilty generously donated £1000 and a goldsmith was commissioned to construct a gold cup which would be a suitable memorial to Tom and his ideals as a horseman. The first Endurance ride was organized as a National ride to perpetuate his wish that we should not lose the ability or pioneering tradition to ride over varying terrain for long distances.
Twenty six riders competed in that first ride and Gabriel Stecher won riding bareback on his five-year-old Pure Crabbet Arabian stallion Shalawi, a son of Shafreyn who was bred at Fenwick Stud.
The combination completed in a time of 11 hours 24 minutes. There were six other successful competitors and 19 withdrawals. From a meeting on the following Sunday of the ride with all riders, friends and supporters many decisions were made on the shaping of endurance riding in Australia. And so a Quilty tradition was born.
In 1983 the Tom Quilty Gold Cup ride progressed to its present status of the National Championship. Because of its value, the original gold cup was placed in the Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach, Queensland and R.M. Williams donated $8000 for a replica, which is presently the perpetual trophy.
Over several years the sport grew and in 1986 the decision was made to rotate the ride from state to state each year. This gave riders the chance to compete in their home state and not have to travel large distances to compete. Western Australia first hosted the event in 1989.
Traditionally the ride starts at midnight and competitors have 24 hours to complete the 100-mile course. It is held over five legs with each leg returning to ride base for the horses to undergo a thorough vet check before being allowed to continue. Each horse must then be judged ‘’fit to continue’’ at the end of the distance before they are able to earn their riders the coveted Quilty buckle.
The Tom Quilty Gold Cup is the premier event on the National Endurance riding calendar in Australia and is recognized as the one ride that all endurance riders aspire to compete in.
In 2014 it will celebrate its 49th year and is being hosted by the small farming town of Wagin, 150 miles southeast of Perth. An exciting program is planned the week leading up to the ride and Wagin has a vibrant and historic heritage to offer visitors. The spring weather will make for perfect riding and the course will travel over varying terrain including rolling wheat and sheep farming country.
It will be less arduous than at other venues in the past. Although challenging, good times and a high completion rate are expected. The course will be tested in this year’s State Championship ride next month.
More information: www.tomquilty.com.au/2014Wagin
The below video was shot at the Kilkivan Quilty in June, 2013.