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21stBrookvale Ride

Looking back at the National Capital Endurance Ride 1982–2004

A brief history of the Brookvale Ride

Endurance riding in the Australian Capital Territory was founded by a small group of riders including Searle Johnston, Janet Rose, Chris Morgan, Alan Manley, John and Debbie Wallace, Alina Schunke, Kim Tobin, Bob Perriman, Jenny Thompson, Eric Reed, Ernie Kennedy, Merilyn Payne, and local vet Richard Chapman. The first rides were training rides near Bredbo and Burra/Urila in the late 1970s. (The Canberra to Tumut ride in 1971 was run by the Tumut group, not by ACTERA).

The first ACTERA Endurance Ride was held on 14 November 1982. The Blundell family generously made their property, Brookvale, available as the base for the first ride and have continued to do so ever since. The 2004 National Capital Ride is the 21st Brookvale ride - there were two years (1992 and 2003) in which the ride was not held.

The distance and course have changed several times. The ride was originally 110 km, in the standard Snowy Zone format of three legs; it was reduced to 100 km over two legs and then to 80 km. Much of the original course is now National Park and not accessible. The ride has generally been held in October or November - March was tried for a while from 1993 but found to be too hot and dry.

The ACT Endurance Riders Association decided in 1986 to reduce the ride to 'a distance of between 50 and 60 miles over two legs', reasons being that the original ride was quite difficult, too long, started too early and finished too late. This necessitated a substantial change to the course, but the ride still started in the paddocks behind the camp and proceeded out along Two Sticks Road (where riders currently come in off the second leg). The course was changed again in about 1994, to start in front of camp and proceed along Doctor's Flat Road. The course has stayed pretty much the same since then. However, the bushland, private property and pine forests in the area were severely affected by the January 2003 bushfires and that has necessitated some changes particularly to the first leg.

The ride buckles

The buckle has also undergone several changes. The original buckle was the standard Snowy Zone design. In 1985 and 1986 ACTERA offered a plaque as an alternative to a buckle, and in 1986 decided to design its own buckle. The gold or bronze rider against a plain background was used for several years from 1987 and has been incorporated into the Bruce Neal Memorial Trophy, as it was current when Bruce was competing. The round buckle with horse's head was used briefly in the early 1990s before being replaced by the current design of a horse and rider superimposed on the Parliament House flagpole, against a coloured background representing the colours of the Brindabellas - sky blue, sunrise pink and gumleaf green. Click on the image below to see a larger photo of the suite of buckles.

ACTERA buckles from 1984 to 2004 - click to see a larger photo (182kb)
View a larger image (182kb)

Highlights of the first rides

The early rides are remarkable for the low completion rate, long riding times and the relative success of non-Arabian horses, as well as the characters (both human and equine) that took part.

At the first ride, in 1982, only 16 of the 39 entrants successfully completed. Alan Robertson of Taralga on Prancer won in 10:26; Prancer was also fittest horse. Bryan Kidman of Tumut, on Pigslops, was 2nd and David Mortimer of Wodonga 3rd on Faraway Vega (12:05). David was first heavyweight rider and Faraway Vega the first Arabian horse to complete successfully. Kevin Bohm on Kelkette Park Izak was 4th (12:09) and Mark Freeman (Cedar Ridge Rob Roy), John Lindsay (Hollywood Bascombe) and Terry Crossingham (Shannon) were equal 5th in 12:39. Alison Guy of Bungendore was 6th and her horse Soft Breeze was third Australian Stock Horse (ASH). Alison shared the first local lady rider award with Judith Perkins of Canberra riding her Arab gelding Razzledazzle, who was also 4th lightweight. First lightweight was Dorothy Clee on Amber (11:49). First junior was Megan Dyason on Euree Mandingo (first ASH) in 11:58. Second junior was Kelly Horsfall of Cooma on Blairgowrie Cassie Girl (second ASH) in 12:3. (Results from the Canberra Times of 21 November 1982).

The 1984 ride was over legs of approximately 30, 23 and 12 miles (i.e. around 104 km) over terrain described as very attractive but 'up and down' with 'much stony ground'. It started in pouring rain at 3.45 am and the day continued showery and humid. Only 18 out of 41 riders completed successfully, the winner being Terry Wood on Andarra Shareef (also fittest horse). Other placegetters were Doris Porritt on Bullitt (2nd Open), Bryan Kidman on Inka (3rd Open and 1st Heavyweight), Searle Johnston on Shinda (2nd Heavyweight), Bruce Jamieson on Bolo (3rd Heavyweight), Dorothy Clee on Aloha Shimrak (1st Lightweight), Raymond Beech on Sanroblee Mistie (2nd Lightweight), Gillian Petersohn on Andros (3rd Lightweight); P. Smith on Pepper (1st Lightweight), Kerry-Anne McGufficke on Calamity (2nd Jnr) and Kelly Horsfall on Blairgowrie Prince William (3rd Jnr). The 13 hh Welsh Mountain Stallion, Cymreig Rustler, ridden by Marie Hill (later Marie de Monchaux) was 9th Open. (Report from Hoofs and Horns, January 1985).

The 1985 ride, held on 10 November, was the last in the 110 km three-leg format and started at 3.30 am. It was won by Debbie Wallace on Glenallan Solitary Man in 8:12. Barry Robertson on Rick was 1st Heavyweight, Carole Sparkes on Zamfir 1st Lightweight and Bruce Neal on Flamizak and David Bohm on Kelkette Park Juggels equal 1st Junior. Only 19 of the 44 starters (43%) successfully completed, with 23 horses vetted out (10 lame, 12 on heart rate and one for dehydration) and two withdrawn due to illness or injury of riders. The longest riding time was 12:55, just inside the riding time of 13 hours.

In 1986, there was a four-way tie for first place involving Jenny Oliver (Glenallan Nomad), Terry Wood (Sinclair's Point Tiki), Andrew Bailey (Dora) and Angelina Patterson (Cedar Ridge Robell), the winning time being 5:20. This was over the new course of around 100 km in two legs, with a 4.00 am start. The completion rate was 72% (46 from 64) with the slowest time 9:24 well within the 11 hour riding time.

The 1987 ride started at 3 am to try and beat the heat, and the riding time was extended to 11 hours. The previous year's ride was actually a few kilometres short and the course was adjusted for 1987 to make it a full 100 km (56 km + 44 km). This resulted in a lot of complaints and poor attendance the following year. Of 68 starters, 45 (66%) completed successfully, the winners being Jenny Oliver on Glenallan Nomad and Michael Piper on Myrimbar Bey in 7:09 (compared to the winning time of 5:20 the previous year) with Jane Neal on Flamizak 3rd in 9:35. Searle Johnston on Shinda was again 1st Heavyweight in 9:08, Paul Sheils on El Visto Marengo 2nd (10:47) and Graeme Williams (True Blue) and Colin Joyce (Jinney) equal 3rd in 10:50.

Although the number of horses vetted out on pulse was only slightly higher than those vetted out lame, a number of successful completions were marginal on pulse. At the 1985, '86 and '87 rides, final pulses averaged in the low 50s, and ranged from 41 to 69 with several successful horses (eight in 1987) having final pulses of 59 or 60.

As it is now

Although only 80 km and far easier than the earlier rides, the Brookvale ride is still challenging and the course needs to be treated with respect. At the 2002 ride, 16 horses out of 79 vetted out and four required invasive treatment and/or rest orders. The fastest time was 4:11 by Ray Fulton on Zeyn Bensarah making this the second time in a row that a heavyweight rider was first across the line. First Middleweight was Meg Wade on Nalinka in 4:54, first Lightweight Shelley Ison on Miss Ellie (4:54) and first Junior Rochelle Knihincki on Tuldar Ronnie (5:21).

Recollections of the first ride, from organisers and participants

We'd lost about half the ride one year with our poor course marking out at Bredbo and disqualified them, but several of them phoned me afterwards to say they had such a good time they'd be back next year anyway.
We drove around the proposed (Brookvale) course in late 1980 and bogged the 4WD and had to get a tow truck to get it out. That was the start of the drought despite getting bogged.
The 1982 ride was in the middle of the big drought which broke in March 1983. One of the competitors told us you needed a camel not a horse as there was so little water. There was a dead sheep in the extremely low creek.
We had a lot of our own money staked on that ride.
It was 100°F in the two days before the ride and the day after it. We nearly cancelled the ride but the forecast was for cooler weather on the Sunday so we decided to go ahead. If we'd cancelled, we'd have blown the thousand dollar overdraft one of the organisers had taken out to get the ride started.
I remember Searle's dulcet tones at 2 am in the morning asking us to get up.
The third leg went through Dingo Dell and back down the creek. It was 110 km but I believe it felt much longer than that.
I was so hot and tired at the end of the second leg that I was praying Richard would vet me out so I didn't have to decide whether to withdraw or keep going - but my horse was fine and we kept going and completed successfully.
I remember a Snowy Mountain rider called Brian riding a horse called Pigslops - he was called that because he used to eat the pig food. He came second despite the fact that Brian led another horse all the way round the first leg after he found it when its rider fell off.
There was an elderly lady who did the first Canberra ride - I think she was in her 70s or 80s then - her name was Betty Serpell.
There was a rider who was so pissed at the start of one Snowy ride that he saddled up the wrong horse, that was unfit and only supposed to be doing a training ride - he still got around though. We were worried something like that might happen at this ride.
My horse had only had work for about two weeks before the first (training) ride so by the big ride at Brookvale we'd had at least another 6 weeks of work ... I remember keeping him in my backyard and working him during the week along the bridle trail at the base of Mount Taylor.
Searle told (Richard Chapman) to be very strict on horses showing any sign of lameness. Searle's horse (Shinda) was the first to be presented and the first to be vetted out - it turned out he just had something digging into his sole and was really sound as a bell but by then it was too late ...
Despite the high vet out rates I don't recall any serious horse problems. Perhaps our idea of serious problems was a bit more relaxed then but I certainly don't recall any horses needing to be rescued on course or needing intravenous fluids etc.

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