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National Capital 2004 Ride Review

The 21st National Capital Ride was held on 17 October 2004, on a fine and pleasantly cool day and a good track, which had been softened by recent rain that had also ensured plenty of surface water. The ride base was on the Blundell family’s Brookvale property near the Australian Capital Territory border, the venue for this ride since its inception in 1982 and described by some riders as "the best campsite in the country".

Rider numbers were down considerably this year, probably because of the proximity to the Quilty. In addition to the familiar faces who return year after year, it was good to see several people riding at Brookvale for the first time and one we had not seen at this ride for many years – Lynette Elfick returned for the first time since 1987.

As it was not possible to run the ride last year, this was the first time riders had seen the course since the disastrous bushfires of January 2003. Fire damage necessitated some changes, with the first leg being reduced from 50km to 40km and the second leg extended by 10km. The extent of the damage was clearly visible from the campsite and from the photographs taken during and shortly after the fires by Mrs Judy Blundell. Several of these, showing the early stages of recovery of the local bushland, have been made into cards to raise funds for fire-affected landowners and the local bushfire brigades. Purchases of the cards at the ride made a substantial contribution to that effort.

Forty-three riders set out at 4am on the first leg of the 80km ride. Most of that leg was through eucalypt forest now showing good regeneration, with an understorey of ferns and wildflowers helped along by recent rain. Riders found it still quite challenging, with a substantial climb in the second half. Steve Locke, Rene Schipper and Harry and Steven Robinson completed the first 40km in just under two and a half hours, with Pauline Brewer, Pamela McCabe, Gavin Bartlett and Julie Scruse all back within 3 hours.

The second leg, much of it through former pine forest, is now very exposed due to loss of tree cover as a result of the fires and subsequent clearing. That leg, which was also the course for the 40km training ride, presented considerable challenges for the organisers in setting out a safe and accessible course, as the remaining dead pines were becoming unstable and many had already fallen across the tracks. It was fortunate the day of the ride had typical spring weather and not the heatwave conditions of the previous weekend. Nevertheless, most riders took their time on that leg. Although a few of the 80km riders had finished before 10am, most took between 6 and 8 hours to complete the ride and a few took more than 9 hours. The relatively slow times were partly due to the large number of novice horses, most of which completed successfully. The training riders, who started at 6.30am, also took their time and all 17 were successful.

The winner was Steve Locke, riding Howard Park Zdansk, in 4 hours 37 minutes. Steve has now joined the select group of multiple winners of this ride, the others being Alan Robertson, Terry Wood, Jenny Oliver and Searle Johnston. Middleweight riders Pauline Brewer, Pam McCabe and Rene Schipper also finished in under 5 hours. First heavyweight was Steven Robinson in 5 hours 26 minutes. Julie Scruse was first lightweight, in 6 hours 46 minutes. It was good to see such a large number of juniors – ten started and nine completed successfully, with Zoe Locke and Lisa Counsell crossing the line together as joint winners in 6 hours 39 minutes. Rochelle Knihinicki’s successful completion brought up Tuldar Ronnie’s 5000 km. The perpetual trophy in memory of Bruce Neal, which is awarded each year to a junior rider demonstrating a high level of horsemanship, went to Amanda McDonald riding Blakes Heaven Romany.

Peter Orr from Main Event Photography took spectacular photographs of riders against the background of the mountains and regenerating bush. Ride photos can be obtained by emailing Peter at or by phone on (02) 6020 3272.

Although all went smoothly on the day, the ride was not without its dramas, mostly due to the determined efforts of a person or persons to remove markers. Club president Paul Sheils and Chief Steward Graham Williams had the weird experience of replacing markers on the early part of the first leg at about 9pm on Saturday night, only to find they had already been removed again in the 2 hours or so that it took them to drive around a loop of the course and return to that point. The organisers also had visions of Apocalypse Now with equine extras when we discovered the piles of dead trees in the former pine forest were to be burnt at about the time of the ride, but fortunately this was able to be deferred. They made a spectacular sight just a few days later, being ignited by incendiaries dropped from low-flying helicopters.

Aranda Scouts did their usual excellent job of catering and WICEN provided excellent radio communications. As well as strong support from current ACTERA members, invaluable help with checkpoints, water carting and other tasks on course and at base was provided by volunteers who generously contributed their time and equipment. The ride was, as usual, generously supported by local businesses, many of which donated prizes. Searle Johnston donated a World War 1 military saddle that was raffled at the ride.

A commemorative booklet looking back over the history of the ride, including early ride results, maps of previous courses and recollections of the 1982 ride by organisers and participants, was compiled by the ride committee. Read extracts from the anniversary booklet on this website.