Queensland endurance riding season off to a ’stirling’ start

Riders get away in the 82km event to start the 2024 QERA season. 393094_01

Erle Levey


It was like the first day back at school as Queensland endurance horse riders started the 2024 season. ERLE LEVEY was at Imbil’s Stirling Crossing Equestrian Centre for a few lessons

The 2024 Queensland Endurance Riding Association (QERA) season got under way in style at Imbil this month.

There was a mix of experienced riders returning for the year and newcomers being welcomed into the fold for the Stirling’s Starter.

Seasoned horses were side by side with those being brought into the sport at the Stirlings Crossing Equestrian Centre.

There were 137 riders registered for the seven events over the two days – from 10km and 20km introductory rides to 40km intermediate and the 82km endurance event.

It was the first QERA endurance ride over this distance in a year will see a high number of competitions throughout the Mary Valley and the Burnett regions.

These include the Far-A-Way Easter Endurance Carnival at Imbil Showgrounds on March 29-April 1; the Stirling’s Classic at Stirlings Crossing, Imbil, on May 4-6; Biggenden June 15-16; QERA State Championships at Widgee on July 20-21; Blackbutt-South Burnett Club on Sep 7-8; and Wondai on Sep 21-22.

The year will culminate with the Tom Quilty Gold Cup at Wirrina Cove, South Australia, on October 19-20, with a strong contingent of local riders expected to take part.

The setting at Stirlings Crossing Endurance Centre for the starter over Saturday-Sunday was near perfect: ringed by forested ranges with crystal-clear night skies and the sound of running water from Yabba Creek.

The day temperatures were hot and humid, and the course through the picturesque Imbil State Forest was regarded as challenging due to the hills and the firm surfaces of the trails.

Yet riders welcomed the chance to lay the foundations for 2024, bringing in new horses and building their stamina for the events ahead.

Temperatures had been tipped to be in the mid 30s so the decision was made to start the 82km event at 3pm, 90 minutes after the scheduled start to avoid the main heat from the day.

The 40km event got away at 2.30pm, with the 20km and 10km starting at 3.30pm to get them back to ride base before dark.

Sunday saw a further 40km, 20km and 10km events starting from 5am.

Volunteers make it possible

Without the band of volunteers that step in at Stirlings Crossing events such as this would not be possible.

Endurance provides a setting for riders, family and friends to get together due to their love of horses.

QERA and the Stirlings Crossing Endurance Club are very organised and proven to be capable of running such rides.

Thanks to an amazing community in the Mary Valley the core group of committee and volunteers stays much the same.

As a result there is a great network of vets, stewards and medical staff.

In endurance riding, to complete the course is to win.

Veterinary checks of horses are held before and at the end of each event, as well as after each 40km leg in longer rides.

Care is also taken to ensure the welfare of riders.

Then there are the hosts, the Sample family, for the work put into preparing the course and the centre.

The volunteers help with timing, data entry, communications, providing food as well as hot or cold drinks for the team.

There are teams to fill water points, arrange for riders and horses to be returned to base in case of injury, illness or a mishap.

Then there are the facilities to check, let alone ensure that power stays on during black-outs.

82km Stirling’s Starter

Riders at the event ranged in age from five to 74 years. To take part in an open class there is a minimum requirement of having completed two 40km and three 80km events over any period of time.

Horses must be five years old, and to compete in the open class need to have completed three 80km rides in a timeframe of 90 days of competition.

Line honours and heavyweight award-winner was Gympie’s Grant Jocumsen riding GJ Horsemanship Tango in a time of 7:25:56.

Mother and daughter Karen Winkel and Aanja Hamelink crossed the line in the same time as Grant, and shared equal first placing in the lightweight section.

Mary Duncan, riding Bonnybrooke Samara, was leading junior – also with a time of 7:25:56.

Saasha Grogan riding S’Shaada Material Girl took out the middleweight section at 8:02:00.

Exciting year ahead

As the name implies, the Stirlings Starter is the first QERA endurance-length ride for the season.

It will be an exciting year for riders with a good number of events scheduled for the Gympie and Burnett regions.

Australian Endurance Riders Association (AERA) secretary and QERA ride calendar co-ordinator Kim Moir said the next event to look forward to would be the Far-A-Way Easter Endurance Carnival at Imbil Showgrounds on March 29-April 1.

There are 10 events scheduled over four days, with the 320km marathon the showpiece.

One of the longest endurance horse riding events in Australia, it is held in demanding terrain as well as conditions.

Far-A-Way was started at Dealbata, near Kenilworth, in 1986 by a group of riders who were travelling to the Tom Quilty Gold Cup that year.

They had decided to take a team to the first travelling Quilty; to be held in South Australia. Sitting around the campfires, they thought of a signature ride for Queensland.

Within a few months, the committee was established and the new marathon event was to be known as The Far-A-Way.

It will start at 4am Friday, 29 March, and finish Monday afternoon.

Like the Tom Quilty, the marathon has become quite an ambition of riders.

“It’s not everyone’s wish,’’ Kim Moir said, “but those that is, they are extremely keen on it.

“It’s a big ask. They need to have a horse ready for that distance.

“It’s a matter of getting the condition up for horse and rider.

“Competitors can be any age, as long as they are an open rider and so is the horse.’’

The Far-A-Way offers something for everyone, with a 20km every day, 80km Saturday and Monday, with options of 5km and 20km on Sunday.

The Kilkivan Great Horse Ride is to be held the following weekend, 5-7 April, with trail rides and events.

Discussions are taking place for a 40km QERA ride on the Sunday.

The Stirlings Classic at Stirlings Crossing, Imbil, on May 4-6, is, as the name implies, a highly-regarded event on the ride calendar.

The weekend comprises a 120km ride plus a couple of 40km events.

The Classic is taken seriously by riders and seen as a development event for those wanting to focus on competition.

The Biggenden weekend of June 15-16 is always popular and will see 20km, 40km and 80km rides.

It is being held earlier this year to make room on the calendar for the inaugural Wondai ride in September.

A highlight of the year will be the QERA State Championships at Widgee on July 20-21, with a 40km and 160km ride.

Holding the championships at the recreation grounds is in recognition of the history of the Widgee Endurance and Trail Riding Club and the facilities on offer.

Widgee has a strong committee and a lot of community support for the ride.

There is a long connection with horse events from its rural past, but that is becoming stronger as more and more riders move to the area.

The inaugural Wondai ride weekend on September 21-22 is being organised by the Dingo Creek Endurance and Community Club.

Ride co-ordinator Virginia Barber said Wondai was another name for dingo … the creek that runs through the town and forestry.

Rides will include 80km, 20km and 40km.

There will be a series of social rides in the lead-up, starting Saturday, 23 March, with a social dinner, and the rides on Sunday.


Heavyweight: Line honours and heavyweight winner: Grant Jocumsen riding GJ Horsemanship Tango in a time of 7:25:56.

Middleweight: 1. Saasha Grogan riding S’Shaada Material Girl, 8:02:00. 2. Antonia Forstpointner, Performance Park Wings Of Fire. 3. Gayle Holmes, Barakee Holy Tomoly.

Lightweight: Equal first: Karen Winkel, riding Ranek Boz, and Aanja Hamelink, Picnic Park Klassiqua, 7:25:56. 3. Emma Shone, Brookleigh Syria.

Junior: 1. Mary Duncan, riding Bonnybrooke Samara, 7:25:56. 2. Neeve Whittaker, Bacchante Catching Fire.