Competitive endurance riding, as we Australians know it, began in the USA. Wendell Robie inspired and organised the first competitive ride from Lake Tahoe across the mountains to Auburn in California; one hundred miles to be completed in less than 24 hours, under veterinary supervision.
Many Australian riders have travelled to the USA to ride in the Tevis and win themselves a Tevis buckle.
Some Australians were convinced that anything the Americans could do we could do also. The veterinary parameters and rules developed in the Tevis, as it came to be called, were applied to the first 100 mile endurance ride in Australia, by our Australian veterinarians. We had the willing riders and the horses.
The first competitive endurance ride in Australia was held in the Hawkesbury valley, west of Sydney, supervised by Professor Hutchins who ran the Camden Veterinary Hospital. It came to be called the QUILTY, after Tom Quilty, a Kimberly cattle man, who supported the idea and who donated the money for a Gold Cup. There was a lot of opposition from the newspapers, who considered this kind of ride to be cruel: but in spite of all obstacles, the first endurance ride began at 1:14 a.m. on the 1st of October, 1966, and the start was flagged off at minute intervals, by the Shire Mayor, Mr. Turnbull. The riders had signed a document to say that they would ride as individuals and did not ride for any prize money. The successful combinations received a silver buckle, and that has been the practice since. Endurance riding remains competitive with amateur riders.
The Australian Endurance Riders Association was formed to regulate this new sport. Rules were added to suit the circumstances and the veterinary criteria also were tightened, on the advice of the veterinary team. The Quilty was held every year over much the same track. After a few years, a referendum was held among the riders to decide if the Quilty should be held in a different State each year. This idea succeeded. The numbers of riders increased dramatically, as those who could not afford to travel to Windsor, N.S.W. could compete in their own State.
Branches of the Australian Endurance Riders Association were formed in each State (except the Northern Territory) affiliated to the AERA. It meets 3 or 4 times a year to legislate new rules and regulations that riders and veterinarians have proposed and consider necessary. The sport has devolved over the years to protect our horses and riders. The concept of novice riders and novice horses has meant that newcomers to the sport need to qualify themselves to be able to ride in open endurance rides in Australia. All horses must have a log book which identifies the horse and all the rides that it has entered, including its successes and failures.
Endurance riding overseas has been modeled on the sport of Eventing, but over the years their rules have gradually come to resemble our Australian rules.
The Equestrian Federation which controls all rules for equestrian sport world-wide has developed a set of rules for endurance competitions. Our Australian riders must comply with these in overseas competition. FEI rides are held in Australia from time to time so that our riders have the opportunity to qualify to compete overseas. To ride overseas is an expensive exercise and only a very few have the means to do this. It usually involves the sale of the horses which are in demand overseas.
By far the majority of endurance riders in Australia ride enjoy their endurance riding under the AERA rules of competition.