Ravensthorpe endurance rider Jeanette Denham was the first to cross the line in the Western Australian Endurance Riders Association 160-kilometre event held from the Collie racecourse last weekend.
Jeanette defended her title as champion state rider, also taking out the much coveted award in 2016. She completed the course in a cracking time of 12 hours, 30 minutes - two minutes ahead of Paul Dyson on a competitive stallion who two months earlier had travelled to Queensland to compete in this year's Tom Quilty.
The ride run from the Collie racetrack was a prelude of the venue and course for the Tom Quilty Gold Cup ride, which is the Australian National championship of endurance riding, to be held in September next year. At midnight on Friday night, 24 riders left the Collie racetrack in still, dewy conditions with no moon in sight. Riders have a headlight attached to their helmet to see their way and check on the markers. The horses are very sure footed in the dark and seem to pace themselves accordingly. As the ride unfolded, it appeared the course was technically very challenging as horses vetted out with mainly hind leg lameness resulting in a completion of 50 per cent. This is not unusual in a ride of this distance.
Half the field were pinning their hopes on qualifying for next year's event, the qualification requiring that riders have completed one 160km before entry to the Tom Quilty ride.
Five delighted riders did just that, including the final two riders who arrived back at the racecourse following 20 gruelling hours in the saddle. The applause and cheering from the waiting crowd of friends and strappers when the riders were given the thumbs up from the vets made it a very emotional time.
Riders rode the event over five legs to return each time to the racecourse for the horses to be deemed fit by the veterinary panel to continue the ride. In the sport of endurance riding, the welfare of the horse is paramount. The official motto of the sport "To complete is to win" demonstrates the high priority of horse health. The horse must pass all of the veterinary check points, including the check at the end of the ride. The criteria for this is the same following each leg. The horse must not only be sound and metabolically stable, he must, in the opinion of the vets, be fit to continue. Even at the finish line. The riders have 24 hours to complete the 160km.
Sunday morning horses were again saddled to present for the best conditioned award, which is awarded for each ride division and chosen from a metabolic criteria, in-hand run and finally a ridden workout. Those completing the 160km ride received a very smart belt buckle and trophy and the best conditioned horses received embroidered woollen rugs.
No one was more jubilant and a little overwelmed than solo junior rider, 12-year-old Abbey-Rose Irvine, who had just completed her first 160km ride on her standard bred Mac. An enormous effort for one so young.
Shire president Sarah Stanley attended the award presentation on Sunday morning. The Shire of Collie has been extremely supportive and offered generous sponsorship for the event next year. MP Mick Murray also attended, along with Collie vet Nick Hamill, one of the vets officiating for the whole weekend. Brian Wilson was also kept busy in the communication tower making a promotional video to be used for publicity for next year's ride. Such an event requires a huge spirit of co-operation, which was obvious at this ride, with the committee and volunteers working extremely hard over long sleepless hours. With under 12 months to go, the Tom Quilty committee is gearing up to make it a massive success for Collie.