Tom Quilty 2012
The Tom Quilty Gold Cup 2012 - by Phoebe Harper
An exciting weekend of dedicated endurance riders and their horses was to be found at St Helens, Tasmania for the 47th running of Australia’s national endurance event, the 160km Tom Quilty during the weekend of the 8th – 10th of June 2012. Founded by the legendary Australian RM Williams, the first Tom Quilty event was held in 1966 in NSW. The event was named after Tom Quilty, the man who donated $1000 to make the Tom Quilty Gold Cup, which would be presented to the winner of the event. The event has run each year since then, and continues to be Australia’s national event, with riders flocking from across Australia (and at times internationally) to attend and attempt to ride ‘100 miles in one day’. This year’s Quilty saw 115 riders entered attempting to gain their Quilty Buckle. This is a smaller number than usual for the national event, but many mainland riders were hesitant to travel their horses to Tasmania and chose to skip this event and aim for attending the 2013 Tom Quilty which will be run from Queensland.
This ride is somewhat special to me, not only is it the biggest and most important ride on the Australian Endurance Calendar but I would have the privilege of competing on my homebred American Saddlebred mare Southern Charm; an even greater achievement considering the event is dominated by Arabians and part bred Arabians….I am 100% certain that I had the only American Saddlebred there! Lee Burman, a very good friend of mine, bred Southern Charm (affectionately known as Miss P) in 2005 with the hope of a healthy foal…little did she know she had bred a little champion! I remember getting a call at 5.30am on the 1st December 2005 “QUICK COME ROUND!! WE’VE GOT A LITTLE FILLY!!”. I started Miss P under saddle in August 2010 as a 4 ½ yo and knew she would do great things in endurance. Her attitude, desire to please and remarkably low heart rate inclined me to pursue endurance on her; I had competed on her ½ brother Southern Son with great results. When I started her under saddle I had a goal to make it to the Tom Quilty in 2012. This was due to the fact Tasmania was hosting the event and I never knew if I’d get another chance like that; It was a dream… but one that I was determined to make happen.
Southern Charm completed 2 x 40km rides at the end of 2010 and then went on to complete 4 x 80km rides during 2011 with fantastic results. My little mare was qualified and we would be going to the Quilty! I wrapped her in cotton wool and continued our training schedule and feeding routine to ensure we had the best possible chance at getting to the ride. We completed 2 x 80km rides at the beginning of the year, one in February and one in March, to bump her fitness and then maintained her fitness by riding out 2-3 times a week for no more than 8km each time and kept it to a walk and trot. We packed the car and headed off on the Thursday morning to make sure we got to the ride base in time for entries which closed at 2pm. It was a 4 hour drive up the east coast of Tasmania; the sky was blue and the sun was shining. I forgot to add that Lee and Roger Burman whom bred my mare travel to every one of our competitions to support us, it’s a great way to spend a weekend.
The riders that attended the event this year were rewarded with absolutely gorgeous riding weather, the sun shone throughout the weekend with many lovely photo opportunities being offered! The Quilty is renowned for being a ‘wet’ ride and riders often joke that the number of dry Quilty’s can be counted on one hand. Being winter, and being Tasmania it was still a very chilly weekend, but the sun was most welcome and made the event a pleasurable experience. The ride began at midnight on Friday the 8th June with all riders having to complete the event in 24hours and pass a vet check at 5 intervals during the ride. The vet is responsible for checking the horse’s heart rate (which must be under 60bpm within 30 minutes of arriving through the gate), muscle tone, rehydration and a trot out to determine if the horse is sound. The national anthem played at 11.55pm, which did bring a tear to my eye, and we set off with a good friend Viv and her Arab mare Teika mid field with head torches glowing, it was an amazing feeling. The first leg of the ride was 43km and we seemed to ride along at a steady rate and were back in the gate at about 3.30am. The horses were in good shape and passed the first vet check with no troubles, the track was very good under foot but the first leg took its toll on 6 horses who vetted out lame. We had a compulsory 45 minute break where the horse, and ourselves, are fed and watered then back out for the second leg in the dark. This leg of the ride was quite demanding, there was a lot of hills with a serious climb about 15km’s in but our mares seemed to cope quite well. This leg was 40.5km and we made it back to camp after the sun had risen at around 7.50am...at dawn the frost was stunningly beautiful and it was a surreal feeling crunching through the grass as the sun was rising. Again the 2 mares vetted perfectly. Phew. Things were starting to get real…only 76.5km to go! We found out later that the hills in that leg had been a bit too much for some horses with 13 vetting out for lameness or metabolics. Another 45 minute break and we were out the gate. It was nice to be in the sun so we could defrost our frozen fingers. The 2 mares were in good spirits and trotted along without any encouragement. We arrived back into the gate at lunchtime after travelling 34.5km. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t stressed! Their heart rates came down quickly and we headed back down to the vet ring after sponging them down their necks and cleaning their feet out to make sure there were no nasty stones caught. Again we had 2 thumbs up! Geez, Viv and I looked at each other and said ‘we have to go out AGAIN….!’
The third leg had a compulsory represent which meant that you had to go back down to the vet ring after your 60 minute rest time and have things checked over again. This proved quite tricky for some and did add another level of stress to the competition. Some horses that have passed the initial vetting went out lame after stiffening up back at camp. We really had to manage how they were travelling. The third leg vetting took its toll on competitors and a further 14 horses were deemed eliminated. The 4th leg of the ride was 24km and seemed to go much quicker than the 3rd….thank goodness! We came in the gate around 4.15pm and realized that if we got through this check we would have to go out in the dark. The mares still looked bright and content, we strapped them with a little water and headed down to the vet ring. I felt sick! We had just travelled 142km with our horses and I couldn’t bear it if one of us couldn’t head out on that final leg…..thumbs up! Ok, we had 18km’s to go. This final break was only 30 minutes due to the shorter distance and we made sure the mares refueled with grass hay, Lucerne hay, pellets, apples and carrots before going out again. The vet had told us not to ‘dawdle’ otherwise the horses could stiffen up and get tired, there had been around 9 vet outs after the 4th leg as horses were getting tired and it was showing. It was great to see our mares trot out the gate on the final leg with a click of the tongue, passing other riders who were having to constantly squeeze their horses to keep going. We maintained a steady trot but had to slow down about 5km form home as the ground was a bog pile. Miss P had gone down to her hocks in the mud on the 3rd leg in this paddock and I didn’t want to risk it happening again. After the bog paddock we maintained a steady jog and came through gate at 7.30pm. It was tense and I was very emotional, having ridden 160km with your horse is something that words cannot describe. Viv and I nodded at each other after about 8 minutes of strapping and headed down to the vet ring one last time. It felt like time was going in slow motion; I recall the vet ticking off each vital sign one at a time. Viv and I trotted the mares up and back together with a panel of 3 vets per horse who had to vote anonymously as to whether the trot out was a yes or no. After the vet was satisfied that all other signs were good Viv and I heard those words ‘Congratulations, you’ve just won yourself a buckle’. Lee Burman has been my strapper at every ride we have been to and to share this moment with her was just amazing. We burst into tears and hugged my little mare, in utter astonishment that we had just done the Tom Quilty….and got through to the very end. Lee was at the gate waiting for me after each leg with a woolen rug for Miss P and a smile on her face, she is a fantastic strapper and she had worked just as hard as me for this moment. Lee and Roger Burman have been there with me from the very beginning and there are no words to describe my gratitude to them. I am so very grateful to have been given the opportunity to own this exceptional mare and I wouldn’t have been able to do this without them by my side. There are a few more people that must be mentioned, Debbie Leary was also my main strapper in the vet ring alongside Lee. Deb and I train together weekly with our horses and she has been there every step of the way and I thank her immensely for the help she gave me over the weekend. Not forgetting Alan Wylie who put a new set of shoes on my mare after the third leg, we wouldn’t have been able to complete the ride without you Alan!
The race was won by well known endurance rider Brook Sample riding the very experienced endurance gelding Brookleigh Excalibur. They cantered across the finish line to win the race in spectacular style in a time of 9 hours and 14 mins. Both Brook and his horse have competed previously in the Quilty with Brook now holding 12 buckles and having an impressive 6 wins. A momentous effort from an exceptional horse person, this achievement can be most appreciated when you look at the full results with only 54% of people entered in the event successfully completing.
The next day we read the final results and the ride statistics, which can be found here: http://www.aera.asn.au/tq12/tq12_results.htm. To my utter amazement Southern Charm and I had finished up 9th Lightweight out of the 25 in a time of 16 hours 14 minutes and 30 seconds! Wow, to think 6 ½ years ago I saw this little filly in a paddock the day she was born and, now, to have just come 9th in my division in the 160km Australian Endurance Championships was phenomenal. I also do not have the ‘typical’ horse for endurance with Southern Charm being an American Saddlebred. I would say over 95% of horses doing endurance are pure or part bred Arabians, and this made the ride even more satisfying. Down in the vet ring there would be whispers going around when we entered… ‘that’s the American Saddlebred’ and many people commenting on what a lovely horse she was. I am as proud as punch, the weekend was more than I could ever have imagined. I had a dream 2 years ago to make it to the 160km Tom Quilty endurance ride with my mare Miss P, don’t ever stop believing in yourself and what is possible. I know I didn’t.
Photos to follow