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Endurance riding in Australia

February 6, 2006

Australia is the world's top ranking medal-winner in endurance riding - an achievement which stems from a proud heritage of long-distance riding borne out of harsh beginnings in a country of vast empty spaces.

Its national team has taken part every World Championship and World Equestrian Games since they were formed and has carried off medals in all but one of these events.

The country also has a formidable reputation as a breeder of purebred and part-bred Arabian horses, producing star performers with exceptional bloodlines and the bone and attitude that reflect their free-range lifestyle in Australia's wild terrain and weather - there's no need for stabling down under.

Australia has produced horses such as Crystal Flyer, Provocative, Parlour Mountain Tabitha, Stanpark Ginnis, Ralvon Reflex, Mindari Aenzac, Oaklynn Lassiter, and many others which have found their way to the tracks and stables of the Middle East and Europe.

While the modern sport of endurance riding has been popular in Australia for 40 years, long distance riding and testing of the endurance capacity of horses goes back much further. Between the late 18th and early 20th centuries, Australia was a major supplier of mounts for the British cavalry in India, and 100 000 horses went with the Australian Light Horse to the Middle East in the First World War.

For many Aussies, endurance riding rekindles the spirit of the old bushmen - the stoicism, bravery, mental toughness, grit and guts of the men and women, who in times gone by, depended on horses for their lives. It gives present generations continuity with their past and exemplifies the 'never surrender' approach to adversity that Australian's admire so much.

Australian bush legend RM Williams and his then wife Erica, were responsible for sowing the seeds of early endurance riding. Through their magazine, Hoofs and Horns, they drew local attention to the first American Tevis Cup endurance ride and canvassed the notion of a similar event in Australia. Out of this was born the world endurance classic, the annual 160 kms Tom Qulity.

The Quilty, now into its 40th year, is regarded as one of the world's toughest horse races with the very best riders and horses from all the major equestrian nations making an annual pilgrimage in search of a Quilty buckle. It has been joined by other 'classics' including the 400km Shahzada marathon and the Windorah Desert Challenge.

Australians are fortunate in having a vast and uncompromising landscape of widely-varying terrain and equally diverse weather conditions in which to ride. Across the country, from the Antarctic-swept wilderness at the southern tip of Tasmania to the searing deserts of the north western Queensland outback, events are held virtually every weekend. Many riders travel tens of thousands of kilometres each year to take part in a sport they describe as an addiction.

An estimated 8,500 people are involved in endurance riding in Australia - a country of less than 20 million people. They are riders, owners, vets, officials, crew, friends and family. They come from every corner of the country and from all age groups and social backgrounds. Egalitarianism is another Aussie preoccupation.

The frequency of rides as well as the variety of conditions has helped Australia produce some of the best horses in the world, but there are also other circumstances which make the Australian endurance horse a world-beater.

A key factor is the unique and valuable bloodlines from which many of the best Australian horses derive. Australia was fortunate to acquire a series of Arabian horses who have proven to be outstanding endurance progenitors. Among these was the legendary stallion Shahzada, who showed himself an exceptional performer in endurance tests in England before his importation to Australia in the 1920s. Many of the best Australian horses carry multiple crosses to this stallion.

Over the years, the Shahzada blood has been combined with that of several of the very best horses from Crabbet, Hanstead and Musgrave-Clark breeding. More recently, Australian breeders have out-crossed to proven bloodlines from Egypt, Spain, Russia and the USA.

Because of the long tradition of endurance in Australia, breeders have had the advantage of being able to breed from proven endurance performing mares and stallions. For example, the pre-eminent endurance Arabian stallion in Australia today is Chip Chase Sadaqa, who is, himself, a Quilty winner and sire of Quilty winners.

An important factor is that Australian horses are bred and raised in large paddocks. Endurance horses are rarely stabled, and have the benefit of growing and living in a natural environment where they get every opportunity to develop bone, muscle, tendon and attitude.

Endurance riding in Australia is organized under the Australian Endurance Riders Association (AERA) a federation of state associations. The essential philosophy of the sport is that completing a ride with a sound horse is more important than attempting to "win" by risking the well-being of the horse. This philosophy produces high completion rates, and riders who are highly skilled in bringing on horses which stay sound ride after ride - another factor in the development of quality endurance horses, which often only reach their peak in their early teens after many seasons of solid conditioning.

The Australian Endurance Squad (AES) was formed in February 2003 with the mission - 'To promote and Foster excellence in Equestrian Endurance'. It has been the vehicle from which the riders and horses of the Australian team has emerged.

Importantly, the sport is also advancing rapidly at the 'grass roots' level - evidenced by the expanding membership lists of the state endurance riding associations. This, in turn, is triggering an endurance riding 'industry' with equestrian suppliers and specialist magazines devoted purely to the sport.

Endurance riding is also starting to gain media attention with regular reporting in national and state newspapers and items on television and radio. As a result, it is beginning to capture the imagination of the broader community. Endurance riding in Australia is poised on the brink of a new and exciting era.



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