Tom Quilty National Endurance Championships coming to Collie in 2020

Along for the ride: Horses enjoying a drink before heading back to the Collie Racetrack. Photo: Vince Evans.
Along for the ride: Horses enjoying a drink before heading back to the Collie Racetrack. Photo: Vince Evans.

Collie will play host to the 55th running of the Tom Quilty National Endurance Championships, held from September 18 to 20 this year.

At midnight on the 18th, over 150 horses and their riders will take to the pitch black tracks of the Collie forest to tackle Australia's most prestigious endurance ride.

The valley's forests, sparkling waterways, scenic trails, and picturesque farmland will make for a varying and challenging course.

It will be the sixth occasion that WA has hosted this iconic event since the ride began rotating the states in 1986.

This gave endurance riders in each state the chance to compete in their home state and not have to travel long distances.

Like many horse disciplines endurance riding has its origins in the army.

The endurance capacity of cavalry mounts was tested in the early 1920s over a distance of 300 miles .Two of these tests were won by the Arabian stallion Shahzada.

After his arrival to Australia in 1925, he was champion at the Sydney Easter Show for eight successive years. He appears in the pedigree of many of today's top endurance horses.

Fast forward to 1966 and the Tom Quilty ride. Tales of Tom's horsemanship were legendary; he would boast of how quickly he could ride from Euroka, the family station, to Cloncurry - a distance of 162 kilometres - just to send a telegram.

This brought a challenge from RM Williams, and Tom's feat gave rise to a 100-mile ride being named after him.

The dream that became a reality was held in the Windsor - Colo area of the Hawkesbury Valley, just west of Sydney.

The winner was Gabriel Stecher who rode his Arabian stallion Shalawi bareback the whole distance in a time of 11 hours and 24 minutes.

This year, the Western Australian Endurance Riders Association expects over 150 competitors including local, interstate, and international entrants from USA and England.

The town will swell in numbers for the Quilty week, as an exciting programme is planned leading up to the midnight start.

Collie is proud to be hosting the event in 2020, with the Shire of Collie and local community rallying to the cause.

The ride base will be at the Collie racetrack, where improvements to infrastructure and facilities have been a work in progress.

The venue will offer first-class facilities with ample room for camping and good provision for vetting and strapping.

Further improvement to the racetrack include re-surfacing of the wash bays, a new swab box, and a new toilet block with floodlighting.

The Tom Quilty committee comprises 25 WAERA members that are experienced at their respective portfolios and are dedicated to making the event a success.

Many of the members have experience at previously hosting this national event. Formal meetings of the committee commenced in November 2018 and continue monthly to plan the event.

Several of the members live in Collie or close proximity to the town, allowing local knowledge of the countryside and townsfolk to be extremely beneficial in the organisation.

An extensive budget has been made and is updated as work progresses.

The sponsorship team have been exceedingly busy applying for community and local grants and their hard work is paying off.

Merchandise is also now available on the website.

Following a bit of relaxation over the summer, riders are now ready to begin preparation of their horses which usually entails a legging up programme of extensive walking.

The WAERA ride calendar looks busy for this year, with 17 rides in place which will get underway in mid-March at Wilga.

Collie will hold its first ride over Easter, when the three-day marathon of 240km will again be held.

This is a very popular ride and those planning on competing in the Quilty will want to traverse the tracks.

To qualify for the ride, the rider has to have completed one 100-mile ride and the horse a total of three 80-km rides over a set period.

Riders not qualified have only two opportunities prior to the Quilty when a 100-mile ride will be held from the Collie venue in early May and again at the State Championships, to be held at Dryandra in early July.

As with any ride over 24 hours, the elements may prove unpredictable. It may be cold and wet, as riders tack up their horses for the midnight start.

Heading out into the dark with only a few hours sleep returning in a few hours tired and sore but ready to do it all again.

That's the spirit of endurance riding; a sport that bonds horse and rider, builds friendships from a camaraderie of like-minded people and pushes horsemanship to the limits.

Add to that the thrill of riding over exceptional country inaccessible to most, all makes for an addictive sport.

Many riders will be pinning their hopes and aspirations on attaining maybe their once-in-a-lifetime Quilty buckle.

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