TOORAWEENAH 2022 TOM QUILTY PREVIEW

All Trails Lead to Tooraweenah in 2022

 

Tooraweenah! It’s a small, serene little village of a few hundred hardy souls, nestled on rolling plains under the ancient stare of the spectacular Warrumbungle Mountains in the central west of NSW.

A few kilometres away, the Newell Highway hums to the rhythm of the main freight and tourist route between Melbourne, 930 km south, and Brisbane, 750 km north. Around 430 km eastward, Sydney’s chaos and congestion seem just as far away as its capital neighbours.

In fact, most of the time, this small rural hub supporting generations of stoic livestock and cropping families sits quiet and calm, proud and purposeful in its modest isolation, detached from the hustle and haste of city and the ‘burbs.

But there’s another side to this image of comfortable seclusion, because when it comes to endurance riding, community spirit and the true embodiment of country hospitality, Tooraweenah punches way above its weight. Always has!

Indeed, this is a town typifying the Australian character, with a tireless tenacity and gritty determination which not only exults the experience and attitudes of its sparse population, but personifies the fundamental meaning of ‘endurance’ by providing the perfect platform for this amazing sport and its legendary mantle, the Tom Quilty Gold Cup.

In 2022, the famed Quilty heads back to Tooraweenah and much as it did in 1991, the town and its dedicated committee are boldly determined and well advanced with plans to deliver a national championship event which will hammer into obscurity the difficulties and distress of the past few years.

Recovering from years of brutal drought, devastating mouse plagues and of course, the callous constraints of Covid-19 which caused Western Australia’s 2020 Quilty to be rescheduled to 2021, Tooraweenah is now tearing at the bit to make the 2022 Tom Quilty something supremely memorable. An expression, perhaps, that endurance riding and the people who strive to keep the sport unique in the equestrian world, will not be cowed by adversity or setbacks.

It all starts, of course, with a committee which in Tooraweenah’s case collectively accounts for a vast level of experience in organising and conducting a highly acclaimed 80 km annual endurance ride as well as numerous 160 km NSW State championships and the 1991 Tom Quilty won by western NSW rider Andrew Bailey. It’s worth noting that in 2018, Andrew returned to the scene of his ’91 Quilty victory to take out the 160 km NSW State Championship on many of the same tracks, though the more ferocious climbs of 30 years ago have now been resigned to campfire folklore, much to the relief of those with long memories.

Even so, the 2022 Tooraweenah Quilty will be a true championship course befitting the history and heritage of the most prestigious ride on the Australian endurance riding calendar. Typically though, Tooraweenah’s reputation as a demanding endurance course is equally matched by enviably high completion rates at all distances.

What’s more, such is the spirit of endurance riding in this neck of the woods, with 2022 marking 44 years of annual endurance events centred on this formidable little town, that several members of the ’91 Quilty organising committee remain staunchly involved in bringing the 2022 event to reality.

The president of the Tooraweenah endurance riding club, for instance, is Anthony Blessing, a former endurance competitor with 35 years’ experience in the sport and a man who knows what it takes to bring many varied abilities together for a common goal.

Then there’s the club vice-president and chief steward for the 2022 Quilty, Peter Bonham. The Bonham name is synonymous with endurance riding and even now, with more than 45 years in the sport as an organiser, steward and competitor with numerous Quilty buckles on the shelf, it’s not unusual to see Peter riding alongside one or more of his six grandchildren at an event.

The dynastic influence continues with Peter’s daughter and club secretary Sonia Bonham whose background in endurance spans more than 40 years, most appreciably as both a highly accomplished competitor and immensely capable ride organiser. 

However, as Sonia is quick to add, Tooraweenah boasts an extensive and diverse ride committee made up of many members, each with a long connection to endurance riding through the families and local businesses that stretch deep into the community and surrounding areas.

All the town’s facilities will be primed for the running of the 2022 Tom Quilty, from the friendly atmosphere of the Mountain View Hotel Motel, the Tooraweenah Trading Co. rural supplies store, the caravan and camping facilities of the Tooraweenah Tourist Park, and the numerous and various wares of local suppliers. For more detailed supplies, the major rural centres of Coonabarabran and Gilgandra are an easy drive north and south respectively.

As for the ride base, the Tooraweenah Showground on the edge of town is a tried and proven venue for endurance rides, and already there’s plenty of work being undertaken to make it even better.

Bordering the local golf course which is being made available for all strapping and vetting roles, the showground features excellent showers and toilets, an extensive area for the mandatory vet hospital and ample areas for sponsors and suppliers to showcase their products.

A large open area immediately across the road from the central showground is now being prepared for the hundreds of cars, trucks, floats and goosenecks set to hit the town for the running of the 56th Tom Quilty in July 2022.

There is, of course, still plenty to be done but organisers know only too well what it takes to make the Tom Quilty a truly memorable event for competitors, strappers, sponsors, suppliers and visitors alike. 

Meantime, for anyone wanting to arrive with horses and freshen up a week or two before the event, there will be plenty of hospitality and space on local farms to settle in and sample the surrounds and atmosphere of this amazing community.

Tooraweenah! Where horses are in the heart and endurance riding in the blood. 

(For further enquiries, contact Sonia Bonham on 0428 550 909 or email, gavinandsonia@bigpond.com)