The Tumut Endurance committee will breathe a heavy sigh of relief at 12pm tonight, when they finally get their chance to host the NSW Endurance Riding Association (NSWERA) state championships.
After originally preparing to host the event over the June long weekend, and again later in the year; the club was forced to put the date back for a third time due to the travel restrictions associated with Covid-19.
Still at the stroke of midnight tonight, Tumut Endurance will get to utilise the picturesque Bondo State Forest headquarters, as the best endurance riders in the country take off on 160km of beautifully rugged Snowy Mountains course.
Tumut Endurance committee member and event organiser, Kim Stephens, has been involved in the sport since 1966, and explained it was a very different feeling this year, although she was very pleased to see the event unfolding over the next two days.
“The club will be feeling a sense of relief,” Stephens laughed.
“This year has been somewhat of a nightmare, as we were going to hold this event over the June long weekend, but Covid hit, then we were going to host it again, and Covid hit again, so we haven’t had as long to prepare this time.
“To be honest, it would have been easier for us not to host the event, but we still did it, and because we’ve done that, we can help endurance riders in NSW and that is what this is all about.”
Arguably the premier endurance event in the nation this year, the NSW state championships will be a five-stage event, with endurance, horse condition and rider condition all playing a part in the end result.
“We will open up the office at 8am Friday morning (today) and pre-ride vetting will start at 9am,” Stephens said.
“Then the actual (160km) event will start at midnight on Friday night, with 85km riders starting at 1am, while the event has to finish midnight on Saturday night and horses will be checked six times. The first will be at 45km, then the next 40km, 35km, 25km and finally, 15km.”
In a change to usual Tumut Endurance events, horses will have to have their heart rates lowered below 60 beats per minute (bpm) in order to progress to the next stage, or finish the event; a feature generally used at the annual Tom Quilty endurance ride.
“In regards to this event, it is different to a normal 85km because when the rider comes back to base, they are timed into a vet-gate-into-hold and have a certain amount of time to get their horses heart rate below 60 (bpm) before they present to the vet,” Stephens said.
Additionally, commencing the event at midnight, means horses and riders will be forced to contend with the first two legs in the dark, opening up more challenges to competitors.
“They won’t know what is underneath them and they need to trust that their animal will carry them over unforeseen obstacles,” Stephens said.
The Tumut Endurance committee recently held the Bullio Cup qualifier over 85km, while the Windeyer event last weekend was over 120km, meaning many riders and horses should be rock hard fit.
Still, Stephens explained luck, along with a good preparation, would essentially determine the overall winners.
“Sometimes it is the luck of the draw and weather conditions play a big part and bigger egos play a bigger part, horses can easily get vetted out,” Stephens said.
“We have made the last leg, which is 15km, as flat as possible, so there may be some racing involved, but the rider has to know the horse and it could change things too.”
Competing in an NSW State Championship is no mean feat according to Stephens, who explained it took months to have a rider and horses ready to travel 160km in less than 24 hours.
“I would say at the very minimum, horses and riders need to be preparing for three months, so long as the horses has previously been working as an endurance horse,” Stephens said.
“During this Covid thing, we have been keeping our horses poking along, but it has been hard. That is why we put the Bullio Cup qualifier on, because we needed to have horses ready for our 160km.”
With Tumut Endurance already proving to be popular hosts in the past, and if the 160km state championships go off without a hitch, endurance riders may start to wonder if Tumut will get a chance to one day host a Tom Quilty Gold Cup.
“I would love to say we could one day possibly host the (Tom) Quilty, but I just don’t know if we have the support,” Stephens said.
“This weekend, we have 25 volunteers, and there are five vets involved. We also have the Wagga Amateur Radio Club on course with 12 to 14 people helping just so we can actually get radio communication.”
Either way, the Tumut event will be a stepping stone to the 2021 Tom Quilty Gold Cup, that will be held at Tooraweenah next year.
“Any 160km is a good lead up to the (Tom) Quilty, for a qualification to enter a Quilty, who have to have completed a 160km ride, and this ride will be a good step towards that event,” Stephens said.
For full results of the Tumut Endurance NSW state championships and photographs from the ride, check out next Friday’s edition of the Tumut and Adelong Times.