A Journey For Horse And Rider
The night is still, there’s a chill to the air as it is expected to get down to four degrees tonight … but no wind.
And we don’t expect a frost … not like the Queensland State Championships at this time last year.
This year the Tom Quilty Gold Cup is being held at Stirlings Crossing Equestrian Centre at Imbil in Queensland’s Mary Valley.
Such a beautiful drive up from the Sunshine Coast this evening with the fiery red sunset behind the mountains and ranges.
Stop at the Railway Hotel in Imbil … well, its Friday night and I need to get a feel of the town. It was here that the Webb Brothers had the idea of a country music festival that grew into the Gympie Music Muster.
The turn-off to Stirlings Crossing has a big two-metre high sign TQ19 to signify the 2019 Tom Quilty Gold Cup is to be held here, almost 300 horses and riders will set off at midnight for their 160km ride through Imbil State Forest by moonlight and the head torches worn by the riders.
Stirlings Crossing is looking a picture after the rain and then the five days of fine weather. There’s plenty of green grass and good water for the horses, facilities for the riders .. the lanes are all marked for the run-through during the vet checks.
Everything is on readiness for the legendary event, inspired by RM Williams in 1966 after the Tevis Cup endurance ride in the USA, and named after the Western Australian station owner, philanthropist Thomas John Quilty.
Stirlings Crossing is a sea of camper vans, goose-neck trailers for the horses, tents, trucks and cars as about 3000 people are expected to be on the site … there have been some campfires but everyone is preparing for the midnight start. Quiet apprehension is probably the best way to describe it.
The stewards and the vets have come from all over: from Deloraine in Tasmania, Ballarat in Victoria, Anketell in Western Australia, the Southern Highlands of NSW. There are Queenslanders from Chinchilla, Scenic Rim, Cooroy and of course the Mary Valley.
The competitors come from every state in Australia and from overseas … Ireland, Japan, New Zealand and the USA, France, UAE, Estonia, Canada.
The vets and stewards sit around swapping notes, thoughts, ideas .. yarns of events past.
There’s time for a hamburger with just bacon and egg, and a cup of tea.
10.06 … Stirlings Crossing Endurance Club president Kim Moir announces. In an hour she will throw the switch to bring all the lights on. That will signal its time for the riders to saddle up and bring their horses to the pre-ride mustering area.
The excitement of horses fill the air … the neighing, the stamping, the snorting and the hot breath from their nostrils.
The riders and the strappers try to keep them calm.
The Imbil course comprises five legs of differing distances but adding up to 160km.
After each leg the horses must pass a vet inspection. The key is to get the horse heart rate down quickly and ready for vetting.
Once they have passed that it is time for horse and rider to have a feed and drink during a pre-set hold time.
The start is incredibly stirring … charged with energy and anticipation.
Three hundred horses and riders set off into the night … the aim is to complete the course.
Some are competing for the gold cup. Every rider who completes the course is presented with the coveted Tom Quilty buckle. To complete is to win.