1931 - 2021
If you were a newcomer to the sport of endurance riding at the beginning of this century, you might have noticed, at some rides, a little old lady arriving by herself, in her ute and horse float, with a dog and a swag and a feisty bay mare with a baldy face. This was Erica Williams, doing her beloved sport the way she wanted to do it – independently, without fuss or fanfare, spending many hours in the saddle on a horse she had bred and trained herself.
If you were a newcomer to our sport, and you asked for some advice from Erica, she would have given you as much time as you wanted and answered as many questions as you had about training, feeding, riding strategy, clothing to wear, food for you and your horse at the ride, and especially about what made a good endurance horse. And if you had asked someone who had been around for a while about the little old lady with the dog and the bay mare, they might have been able to tell you that she had won 13 Quilty buckles, completed numerous State Championships, many Faraway marathons, a Shahzada marathon, a Tevis Cup and was the first woman to win old Tom’s Gold Cup. Erica, herself, would probably not have told you these minor details.
Erica was one of the foundation members of Australian endurance riding. At a meeting of interested people in April 1966, the motion to form an Endurance Riding committee was seconded by Erica. The first person nominated to a position was Tony Croft, as president. The second person was Erica, as Secretary. This committee agreed to hold the first 100 mile endurance ride in Australia in October of that year. They agreed to the rules of the ride. There were five rules.
When the first Tom Quilty Gold Cup was held, Erica was there at the start on her little part-bred Arabian gelding, Stormy and she was there at the finish, in 3rd place behind Gabriel Stecher and Susan Mitchell, in a time just over 12 hours. At the second Quilty, in 1967, Erica was also there, and this time in 4th place on Stormy, behind Sam Timms, Merle Hill and Rhonda Ryland. In fact, Erica was there for the first 12 Quilties, and in 1975 she was particularly satisfied to be the first woman to win the Gold Cup. The mid-seventies was a time when equality for women was a major social and political issue, and Erica was very pleased to be able to show everyone that her beloved sport was ahead of most sports, and in fact most social institutions, in giving women that equality of opportunity to win the most coveted award possible.
More importantly for endurance riding, Erica was the Secretary-Treasurer of the AERA through these first twelve years of its emergence. These were years when the sport was finding its feet and its direction. The two or more meetings a year always happened near Sydney, but Erica was always there despite the day drive from “Rockybar” in central Queensland. There were many changes. There were six presidents. The date, venue and format of the ride often changed, and especially the vetting requirements. Many new endurance clubs formed and were affiliated with the national association. The constitution was amended and then changed completely. The “rule book” doubled in size – from its original five rules to eleven by 1974!
There was a ten year hiatus in Erica’s involvement with endurance (1977 – 1987) while she sorted out family and life. Significantly, during this time, she continued breeding and showing fine horses and was a hugely respected judge at many shows and events.
Then, she returned, found her partner of many years, Sharahd Friday, and won her tenth Quilty buckle in 1991 – in her 60th year. In a ten year period, Erica and Friday completed nearly 5000kms, 3 Quilties, four Faraway marathons, three QERA State Championships and the Shahzada memorial marathon. And then came that feisty little bay mare, Martina, and a 13th Quilty buckle at Boonah in 2000. By the time of the second Boonah Quilty in 2006, Erica had decided that, at 75 years of age, she had enough buckles – but she had not had enough of the ride she had started 40 years earlier. She was there on one of the crucial timing gates, making sure everything was running smoothly, always encouraging the riders to go on and inspiring a few much younger assistants to take up this amazing sport.
During the 90s and early 2000s, Erica returned to the QERA State Management Committee and the AERA national committee. These were difficult times, with animal welfare legislation, insurance issues and health and safety matters impacting equestrian sports in general. For Erica, if she could help, she would. She was an active member of the Toowoomba Club. She was the QERA newsletter editor, she managed various portfolios, the archives and also wrote two books to document the history of the Quilty. Ironically, the author of those two books is the one about whom a book could be written.
Farewell Erica – a foundation member of our sport, a talented rider, great judge of horses, a gifted horse breeder, at times stubborn and irascible, but always humble and generous, a friend, mentor and inspiration to many.