The Quilty

Sunday, October 4, 2009 at 8:18 am (Australia 2009) (, , , , , , , , , )

The biggest Endurance ride in Australia, The Tom Quilty is held in a different state every year. It is 100 miles in one day, and this year was being held in Victoria. Just a mere 1800kms away from us in Queensland, but we’re not going to let a trifling thing like distance stop us.

I can hardly believe that I used to think to 225 miles from London to Manchester was a long way. That makes you practically neighbours in Australia!

To ride in the Quilty, you have to have qualified. That means that you must have successfully completed a 160km ride before. I haven’t and so I was going with the Splendacrest Team as a strapper. Jay always acts as Head Strapper, and your ride is made much easier with having a back-up crew to help.

First however, we had to get there. We were taking 5 horses – 4 to be ridden, and a spare, because you wouldn’t want to go all that way and your horse not work! G, Tarni, and Kim were going to be riding, along with an American lady who was flying over just to ride in the Quilty, and who Jay was supplying a horse for. Fellow team member Clio was riding as well, but not one of our horses.

The trip was 3 and a half days long. That’s 3 and a half days in a car with G and two teenage girls. It was tough, and we did start to lose our minds eventually, especially with the addition of 3 days worth of Servo food and sweets. Sugar Overload. But we made quite a lovely, if disfunctional, little family!

We would drive for 3 or 4 hours before stopping for a 2 hour break, before driving another 4 hours before setting up camp for the night. Luckily for us Jay has many, many facebook friends, and for 2 nights of travelling we were met with paddocks for the horses and beds for us, along with some fabulous home-cooked food! We only had to camp the first night, where we met up with some fellow Queenslanders.

We finally arrived on Wednesday 16th September in the afternoon and set up camp for the week. The event was being held at Tonimbuk Equestrian Centre in Victoria. The grounds were nice, but space was at a premium, and we were camped with a lot of our fellow Queenslanders.

After a short ride for the horses, we began the week with a Mai-Tai Party. Mai Tai in Australia apparently means throw all the alcohol you can find in a bowl, and add pineapple. That made for my first actual night on the piss in since I got to Australia. I think I certainly consumed enough alcohol to make up for the previous 5 months anyway. I must say thank you to the very nice young man who took me in when I couldn’t find my tent. (It was a veritable tent city, honest!) I always thought I didn’t get hangovers. Now I think that perhaps I just used to sleep through them! After making my way back to my tent at about 6am, I spent the next 5 hours attempting to sleep and blot out the noise from the rain which had started overnight.

Fortunately there wasn’t much to do that day, but unfortunately the bloody rain didn’t stop until the night of the ride, which left most of the camp grounds looking like a particularly wet Glastonbury, but without the music. We had to drive to the local hardware shop just to buy gumboots for everyone. Twice I was sucked out of my boots and ruined my socks!

The day before the ride we heard from a rider who needed a horse last minute, and so even our spare was going to get a ride.

The  race began at Midnight on Friday, and we were there to see them off and then set up our strapping areas. Then we just had to wait. The most popular spot was around the ‘Donkeys’ – metal drums for heating water with a fire underneath.

The front runners came in after just over 2 hours, and G and Tarni just 10 minutes later. G went out lame, but Tarni was through. The next 18 hours passed in a blur of horses and riders, happiness and disappointments, and the excitement of seeing the winners come home. Luckily I was fully prepared for staying up for 24 hours, after years of doing double shifts in the casinos!

Our last rider came in around 8pm that night, and I finally got some sleep around 10pm. We had a 50% success rate – which is normal for the Quilty.

The experience has really left me wanting to ride in one though. Being a strapper was great, but riding in would be something special. (Although all of our riders were quite cranky at points during the ride!) The next one is in New South Wales in June. I am hoping to get qualified first, and then we’ll just have to see! My visa will have run out by then, but it may be worth overstaying if I have the chance!

But alas, my time at Splendacrest was coming to an end. As the team headed back to Queensland, I was left at the Ride Base to hitch a lift to the docks in Melbourne.  Tasmania here I come….

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