Local riders dominate endurance
GYMPIE competitors dominated the Queensland horse endurance state championships held near Mackay at the weekend.
The headline event was staged at Denison Creek, 70km west of Mackay, attracting some of Queensland's best endurance horse riding talent.
Gympie entrants included the husband and wife duo of Achmed Pshunov and Gayle Holmes, as well as Craig Ellison, Bek Millard and Lane Zischke.
Gympie signalled its presence at the event when the first four placings were clinched by the local riders.
Zischke, meanwhile, collected first in the junior event.
Pshunov finished first with his wife trailing closely behind in second, while Ellison took out third and Millard fourth. Millard also returned home with first in the lightweight division.
The event itself was conducted over a gruelling 160km of varying terrain on a cattle station.
Five stages, or loops, rounded out a course many competitors regarded as the most testing they had encountered.
Two mountains broke up the landscape, with the largest of the pair dubbed Widow Mountain for its formidable presence.
After each loop, competitors were required to submit their horse for a thorough vet check to ensure the welfare of the animal was not at risk.
The procedure involved allowing the animal's heart rate to drop to 60 beats per minute before moving on to the compulsory vet check and a return to racing itself.
Gayle said she and her husband Achmed found the ride challenging.
“It was definitely a challenge, and a thinker's ride,” she said. “You had to pace yourself well to do well, and I think that really was the key to success.”
Gayle said the race was quick and the field contained exceptionally good horses.
“The standard was high, so Achmed and I are really pleased with how we performed,” Gayle said.
Gayle and Achmed rode together for the first three loops before being separated on the final two when Achmed's horse recovered faster at the end of a stage and moved through the vet check more quickly.
Initially, the pair found themselves trailing 40 minutes behind two frontrunners who set a lightning pace.
But Gayle said she was not concerned.
“Achmed was a little worried but I said to him that we had nothing to worry about,” she said.
“They went out too quickly and burned up a lot of energy, so it was always going to be a matter of time before we were able to catch them up.
“You have to leave something in the tank.”
And the pair certainly caught up to the two early leaders, converting a 40-minute deficit into a 20-minute lead as the race progressed.
Achmed maintained his lead over his wife to cross the finish line and collect the honours while Gayle came in second to greet her husband.
“You could not have asked for a better finish than that,” she said.
“We were very pleased with the outcome.”
Taking part in the Queensland championships is another event where Gayle has used her extensive bank of experience to strike spectacular success.
GAYLE first started endurance riding back in 1990, and in the time that has passed, has represented Australia twice in both America and Dubai.
Another of the Gympie competitors to leave her stamp in Mackay was Lane Zischke, who collected first place in the junior event.
Zischke was unable to be contacted for comment but put to shame many of her fellow rivals in the junior event to return home triumphant.
The talented young rider could have been forgiven for feeling a little sore after her win but would have already been casting her eyes on her next big event.
Meanwhile, Ellison was also keen to highlight the growing reputation of Gympie as a source of horse endurance talent.
“Gympie is definitely earning itself a place on the map in the sport,” he said.
“These latest results are incredible and to think the top four riders all came from Gympie.”
Ellison, who saddled up for his first ride in 1982, finished the race in third and clinched the top-three finish after some expert riding during the final stages.
The Gympie participant's final time was 11hrs18min and was achieved only after fighting back from eighth position with 70km of the race remaining.
“I started conservatively and my horse had enough to make up the ground on those other competitors,” he said.
Ellison said he was able to read the race well to finish as highly as he did.
“We started at midnight and by 5am it was two degrees, only to heat up to 30 degrees during the height of the day,” he said.
“That taxes the horse and you have to be aware of the conditions.”
Looking ahead, Ellison said he predicts Gympie would continue to post strong appearances at future horse endurance events in Australia and overseas.
“There is a lot of talent here, particularly in the young riders,” he said.