A true test for riders

Sam Remfry and Kelsey Irvine with Marengo SD, first middleweight in Saturday's 80km event. 398615_07


Imbil’s Far-A-Way Endurance Ride lived up to its name and proved to be a good test of horses and riders. ERLE LEVEY was there to capture some of the challenges and achievements of this well-regarded event on the equestrian calendar.


“The event is massive. It’s a matter of building up the endurance of horse and rider.’’

From flooded roads early in the week to sun, showers and humidity, the four-day Far-A-Way Easter Endurance Challenge at Imbil proved to be a test of horses and riders.

Well regarded on the equestrian calendar due to the number of rides held on the weekend, the Far-A-Way also has the appeal of running a 320km marathon and 120km mini-marathon.

The marathon is an event that needs a different approach – the longest of its type in Queensland and twice the length of the famed 160km Tom Quilty Gold Cup.

The Winton-To-Longreach Ride last year of 220km, with one overnight camp, has been the only event close to the Far-A-Way in regard to the preparation and planning needed to complete the course.

This Easter, the Imbil State Forest and surrounds again proved a mix of pleasure and pain as horses and riders tackled the sometimes beautiful, sometimes daunting terrain.

The 320km marathon saw riders walking their horses for long patches of six, seven and eight kilometres to maintain fitness as well as time.

The course was a mix of hills and valleys, through pine forests and across open farmland, from firm and rocky terrain to creek crossings and the softer trails through the forests.

Ride organiser Mark Grogan said about 150 riders attended the weekend, coming from throughout Queensland and down as far as the Central Coast of New South Wales.

“It’s a great event and the tracks were pretty good,’’ Mark said. “We made a couple of small changes due to the flooding earlier in the week.

“The marathon was a harder course this year. The riders did Breakneck Range four times and it was a big, tough ride for them.

“This event sets up the year for them in developing a level of fitness in the horses.’’

Spectators can only imagine what it is like to undertake such rides. The physical and mental toughness to endure riding in all conditions over four days.

This is an incredible challenge for an able rider, let-a-lone someone with a challenging condition.

For could be seen as the worst that could happen … but also the best.

Mark Liesegang has used endurance horse-riding to turn his life around.

Twelve years ago Mark’s wife Natalie, a nurse, woke to find him slurring his words and struggling to string together a complete sentence.

It was a stroke and with a perfectly healthy 42-year-old man, Natalie was looking for answers.

He was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder known as thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, but the short-term is TTP.

After spending 10 months in an out of hospital, Mark realised that it would be something he would have to live with for the rest of his life.

Although the stroke didn’t affect Mark physically, it scarred him in many other ways. At first, he had to learn to read and write again at the rehab centre in Brisbane.

While he will never be at the same standard as before the stroke, it was enough to get him by. Where he struggles, the rest of the family help.

However, the hardest part is the short-term memory loss … essentially he’s like a real-life Dory from the movie Finding Nemo.

Mark has trouble managing his TTP and diabetes as well as other simple tasks the rest of us take for granted.

In 2020 Natalie found an equine therapy course for him to participate in.

That prompted them to find somewhere for Mark to learn to ride horses.

His life changed when Natalie found Virginia Barber from Mainstreme Equestrian.

Mark started to learn to ride horses, and so did his youngest daughter Maddison who was eight years old at the time.

Virginia supports Mark on every ride as, due to his condition, he has trouble remembering which number or colour marker for the leg he needs to follow.

In doing so, Virginia not only keeps Mark safe but herself and her horse.

Last year Mark completed his first Tom Quilty ride after vetting out agonisingly short in his first attempt.

In the Winton-To-Longreach he withdrew at about the half-way mark as Virginia had vetted out. This left Mark with the decision of whether to tag along with other riders or wait for the next chance to compete.

As for the Far-A-Way marathon, Mark was part of the Mainstreme trio that crossed the line together last year – Mark as first middleweight, Virginia as first lightweight and her daughter Georgia as first junior.

This year Mark and Virginia rode the marathon and took out line honours as well as their respective divisions.

Speaking with Virginia after the first leg of the 320km marathon on Saturday morning, she said both horses were going like champions.

Last year the trio set out slowly and built up their speed. However, this year, due to the conditions of early rain and a fine weather to follow, they decided to punch the first day before the tracks became slippery with the horses from other events having gone over it.

“We took it much easier this year,’’ Virginia said. “We’ve done so much walking that the horses were ready to go on the flat.

“The preparation is paying off – we’re extremely excited.’’

The Far-A-Way Challenge started in the Mary Valley in 1986 to create a signature ride for Queensland.

Imbil endurance identity Matt Sample said this year’s event was a real Far-A-Way weekend – it started with showers then became humid as the weather cleared.

“The event is massive,’’ he said. “It’s a matter of building up the endurance of horse and rider.’’

Mark Grogan said the marathon had a 60 percent completion, with one rider choosing to switch to the 250km event.

Antonia Forstpointner, riding Performance Park Wings Of Fire, was judged best managed horse.

Bec Miller and Saasha Grogan also completed the course, having ridden together as juniors and lightweights years ago.

Saasha has successfully completed six of these marathon events.


For Kelsey Irvine, riding in the 80km event at Imbil on Saturday, it was a matter of continuing the family tradition with horses.

Kelsey won the middleweight division of the event, riding Marengo SD, the daughter of the mare she campaigned with for about six years.

That mare was Karma, and Kelsey had three Tom Quilty completions with her as well as two marathons.

Karma was the last horse her grandfather Alwyn Torenbeek bred.

Alwyn was a drover, horse whisperer, endurance rider, bronc rider and author. He competed in the second Tom Quilty Gold Cup in 1967 and continued to be involved in the event until his death in 2015.

Marengo SD is named after Napoleon’s war horse and the father is named after Alexander the Great’s war horse

Based in Rockhampton now, Kelsey trains her own horses as well as for others to do their pre-training.

“It was a great ride,’’ Kelsey said on the Saturday, “… a tough track but in a good way.

“It was very enjoyable, with some beautiful views.

“There was humidity but, being from Rocky, we train in humidity. It didn’t worry us too much but we made sure we took our time over the hills.

“The climbs are quite long. Really it was her (Marengo’s) first competition for the year so it was a good way to start … and getting her more seasoned.

“We will see how we go with the Quilty as the year progresses.

“There is a ride in Mackay ride at end of April, then Inglewood in June.’’

In her career, Kelsey has won or been placed in many 160km and 80km events as a junior rider.

It’s been the same since riding as a middleweight, including winning state championships.

Kelsey completed her first Tom Quilty in 2011 – that was in South Australia – and won the lightweight division in Victoria in 2016.

She completed in Tasmania in 2018, and in Queensland – at Stirlings Crossing, Imbil – in 2019 and 2023.

Kelsey won the middleweight division of the 240km event at Stirlings Crossing at Easter 2022, riding Karma, the 100km and 80km at Stirlings in 2021 and the State Championships in Bowen that year.

The resilience of an endurance rider is well summed up by Mark Liesegang.

Although every day is a new day and over the years he has learnt to live with his condition, life would not be where it is today without his horses and those around him.

“I have met so many people over the past few years of competing and I’m enjoying the social side that it brings as it’s such a family orientated sport. I am so thankful for being part of it.’’


320km Marathon

Heavyweight: Mark Liesegang, Burralga Thunderbolt, 37 hours, 21 minutes, 38 seconds.

Middleweight: Antonia Forstpointner, Performance Park Wings Of Fire, 41:47:36.

Lightweight: 1. Virginia Barber, Fevers Frederique, 37:21:51. 2. Bec Miller, Boonara Red Foo, 43:23:50. 3. Saasha Grogan, S’Shaada Material Girl, 43:24:23.

80km Saturday

Heavyweight: 1. Troy Butler, Falcon Hill Scout, 9:12:39. 2. David Pilgrim, Shades Of Grey.

Middleweight: 1. Kelsey Irvine, Marengo SD, 6:12:54. 2. Stephanie Malmborg, Wattletree Flight. 3. Jess Dakin, El’Maas Ginger Kisses.

Lightweight: 1. Pamela Karner, Flemingo Saphire, 6:14:04. 2. Aanja Hamelink, Aanja Hamelink, 6:17:36. 2. Karen Winkel, Ranek Boz.

Junior: 1. Neeve Whittaker, Barakee Holy Tomoly, 7:38:09. 2. Charlotte Irwin, Cameo Felspar. 3. Lola Hoogland, Bonds Ballistic.

120km Mini Marathon

Completed: Tracey Eastaughffe, Bendinni Rafiki, 15:09:29. Debbie Forsdike, Brecon Beautide, 15:25:26. Kaileb Bannister, The Masked Bandit, 15:12:47. Leigh Bannister, Moonlight Shimmah, 15:12:32.

80km Monday

Middleweight: 1. Ken Moir, Soliloquy, 6:25:33. 2. Phoebe Wilson, Charaway True Perle. 3. Jess Dakin, Boonara The Greatest Showman.

Lightweight: 1. Emma Shone, Brookleigh Syria, 6:25:29. 2. Ash Christofis, Big Hero. 2. Brooke Marshall, Secret Weapon.

Junior: 1. Marlee Carpenter, Wybalena Lodge Blue Ice, 7:24:37. 2. Neeve Whittaker, Splendacrest Brigalow. 3. Bella Brassington, Cameo Carolina. 3. Charlotte Irwin, Cameo Capriole.