Duncan Woodhead (Author)
They say all big ideas start with a dream and I have had a few. So, after sailing around the world and returning to our house in Northern NSW, I was introduced to the sport of Endurance riding and joined the Tenterfield Endurance Club.
They were incredibly friendly and encouraging (I think maybe they just wanted someone else to suffer with them on these long rides through the varied and magnificent countryside). With a great deal of help, particularly from Michael Combe, the then president of TERC., I finally became an open rider. As a way to thank him and the club, Caroline and I volunteered to strap for him at the 2019 Tom Quilty at Imbil, near Gympie.
Now the Quilty is the premier event for endurance riding in Australia. It starts at midnight and the idea is to ride 160km in less than 24 hours. But every 40km the horses are thoroughly checked out by vets and if passed as fit to continue they are allowed to rest for an hour and then sent back out again to do another 40km.
This is where the strapping comes in as not only do the strappers have to look after the horse but also feed and care for the rider while getting some sleep while the riders are out on track is very challenging.
But after watching 300 riders circling around ready for the off at Imbil, I knew I was hooked. So, after various false starts, I was finally able to enter the NSW Quilty 2022. I had a good horse with plenty of experience and lots of attitudes but she went lame two weeks before the event. So, after much soul-searching, Caroline lent me her second horse called Cobber. A solid grey Arab cross stock horse with only 3 x 80km experience, ridden by Caroline on board who is a lightweight rider. I am a heavy-weight rider so a difference of 35kg!!
So, after a long drive to Coonabarabran, we arrived at the Quilty site to be greeted by lots of mud. We had to be towed to our site by the very friendly team of organisers, but setting up yards for the horse and camping in these conditions was challenging.
On Friday the 8th of July at midnight, we were off on my first Quilty ride with about 200 riders. The first 40km in the pitch dark was hard with lots of hills, boggy ground, and rocky areas. It was very demanding both on riders and horses. Of course, you try to take care of your horses, making sure they are fit for the ride ahead. We have always ridden in Blue Pegasos shoes which are polyurethane shoes that help to reduce the concussive effects of miles of trotting. We also inserted plastic plates in the shoes to reduce the chance of a stone lodging in the hoof.
We got through the first vet check and then it became a test of endurance for both rider and horse. Not going too fast but also trying to maintain a good average speed. It became a game of chess, sometimes you might pass a rider only to be passed by them an hour later. After 15 hours and 42 minutes, we crossed the finish line. It was dark and very cold but we had one final vet check and then we were home. Cobber passed with flying colours, an amazing effort from Caroline’s horse.
After taking care of Cobber, we celebrated with a few rums and cokes and then a good sleep. We did not know how we had done until the next morning when to our surprise we found we had come fifth heavyweight out of twenty-five national heavyweight riders eleven completed the ride.
A great achievement that would not have been possible without my strapping crew and the support of Blue Pegasos shoes which I believe really helped Cobber perform at his best.