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Endurance Riding: Insights from a Chief Steward

with Stephanie Malmborg

Wattle Tree Amir and Stephanie on Leg 3 at the July 2023 Winton to Longreach 220km Endurance Ride. Photo: Denise Keelan Photography.

Wattle Tree Amir and Stephanie on Leg 3 at the July 2023 Winton to Longreach 220km Endurance Ride. Photo: Denise Keelan Photography.

My name is Stephanie Malmborg and I am an enrolled nurse from Boonah in SE Qld. I manage a property with my husband where we breed and compete arabians and stock horses in both endurance and campdrafting and run a small cattle grazing business.

My equine passion is endurance (long distance horse riding). I have competed for 16 years in endurance and continue to enjoy the sport.

After marriage and four children it took me 19 years before I was in a position to buy a horse again and this was for my children and the pony club years started. I commenced endurance again in 2011 and have successfully competed my home bred ‘Wattle Tree’ horses for the past 11 years. I proudly hold three of my own Tom Quilty buckles and four of my ‘Wattle Tree’ horses have successfully earnt Tom Quilty buckles.

My eldest competing gelding achieved 3rd middleweight at Winton to Longreach in 2023. I have only around 4000 competitive kms on my record as I don’t get to as many rides as I would like due to work commitments.

Outline a basic overview of the role of Chief Steward at an Endurance Event. A Chief Steward (CS) ensures that all rules are abided by at an event outlined in our Australian Endurance Riders Association (AERA) Rulebook. These rules are broken up into a number of areas including General, Competition, Social Media, Veterinary, Anti-doping and Risk Management.

Liaising with the Ride Organising Committee and Vets a CS attains any relevant information that may affect the ride base and course over the weekend and ensures it is relayed to riders and strappers. The CS will hold jurisdiction over the ride base from when it opens to closes.

Tasks are varied and numerous including overseeing the smooth operation of the vet ring, pre-ride talks, ensuring riders are aware of relevant ride information and that horse identification and status complies with rules and logbooks. Throughout the ride, horses come off track for strapping and vetting and again time frames and rules apply. The order and flow of the vet ring is the CS’s responsibility as they support the vets, volunteers and riders.

Conflicts or issues that arise throughout the ride are addressed and may revolve around track conditions, riders withdrawing out on track, horses vetting out, riders becoming ill or hurt (thankfully this is uncommon) or riders that may have broken any rules such as time restrictions among others.

Behaviour in camp as well as out on track is to be respectful and courteous by all attendees and comply with the AERA code of conduct. A CS has the authority to eliminate riders if these are not abided by.
All in all, a respectful group of riders, vets and volunteers will ensure our weekends are conducted in a smooth manner with people enjoying the sport and quality time with their loved horse.

Over the last four years now as a CS, I have worked at Kholo, Imbil, Inglewood, Charleville, Rappville and Bony Mt just to name a few. I guess one day it would be an honour to join the team at our national event the Tom Quilty in a different state. Who knows what the future brings?

How do you become a chief steward? The process steps through a series of checkboxes such as being over the age of 18, a member of AERA and an accredited TPR steward (these are people who take horse parameters as directed and will include at least the temperature and pulse at pre-ride and throughout the event prior to the horse’s progression to the vets).

You then need to formally apply and be accepted before sitting a written test to show your understanding of the rulebook and to gauge your ability to manage situations. If you pass this exam you will achieve your probationary status, which then sends you through a minimum of three rides where you will work with an accredited CS and learn and strengthen your knowledge and capabilities.

You will be appraised after this and then undergo a verbal test with an AERA-nominated CS. Upon a successful pass you will become an accredited Chief Steward.

Why did you choose to be an official? I never aimed to become an official, but I did recognise that a shortage of volunteers was evident. I thought I could help out here and still ride, so I did my TPR course which is only a couple of hours, and then assisted at every ride I rode at for the pre-ride checks. Our sport leans very heavily on volunteers and they are often past riders or family of riders. In 2019 I was asked to consider becoming a Chief Steward. Although honoured I was also very worried, as being rather quiet and somewhat of an Introvert it was an intimidating thought.

I did take up the challenge and have since Chief Stewarded at a couple of events each year, with the support of our ride organising committee, other Chief Stewards and vets along with many selfless volunteers. I do enjoy being able to put a bit back into the sport I love. To support and witness a rider’s highs and lows of this sport is quite personal and poignant.

Explain the different levels (classes or classifications) at an event. Both horses and riders begin as Novices, age restrictions apply and through a series of steps you attain Open Rider and Open Horse. This aims to teach people how to ride a consistent ride and to gain an understanding of their horses and their own capabilities.

A rider must complete two ‘intermediate rides’ at novice pace which is 14km/hr or slower successfully. (Most of our intermediate rides are 40km but can be up to 60km). Then they must complete three ‘endurance rides’ at novice pace successfully. (Our endurance rides are mostly 80km but can be up to 120km). Once this is done you apply to your state registrar (e.g. QERA, NSWERA, VERA) with relevant forms for your upgrade.
A horse must complete three endurance rides at novice pace successfully before applying to your registrar with relevant forms and the horse’s logbook before being upgraded to open status. Open status means you do not have any time restraints on your leg speeds in an endurance ride.

Of course, vet parameters apply to each leg of a ride and a rider that rides his horse too fast for their ability and fitness will vet out on some parameters such as heart rate, metabolics or dehydration etc. Our sport is conscious and proactive in horse welfare and early warning systems are in place to pick up those horses and riders that vet out numerous times and penalties apply that will be enforced.

Our vets are endurance accredited and their experience in picking up early signs of distress are exceptional and they will guide the listening rider for positive outcomes.

Are there different levels of events (eg. State Titles and National events) and if so, what are the requirements to compete at the higher levels? Our National Titles is the Tom Quilty which is a 160km ride and is held in a different state each year. The first Tom Quilty was held in 1966. To qualify for Tom Quilty, you and your horse must be of Open status. Your horse must be at least six years old and the rider must be at least 12 years old. The rider must also have completed another 160km ride, this may be a State Championship or other 160km ride that clubs hold at times to allow riders to qualify.

Higher levels of competition are sought by some riders and this allows international competition. These rides are FEI rides and have their own rules and qualified stewards for this.

What are the most difficult decisions you have to make? In my time as CS, I am thankful that I have always had another CS on the team that I can turn to if needed for clarification and support. Conflicts are actually quite rare and most are easily resolved. Some of these include the age of a horse, confirmation of a brand, help for novice riders with balancing their time or track issues. Anything more serious can be dealt with by people who hold positions on the Interdisciplinary team and is guided by our rule book. It is nice to know that this team is not often called in to exercise their roles.

How do your decisions differ at the various levels? I don’t think they differ much from a 40km to a State Championship for me. Riders get to know the rules and ignorance of them cannot be a reason for leniency as horse welfare is at our forefront. In saying that, some beginner riders need education as they progress, and we certainly are fair in this regard if the broken rule is not detrimental. With each case, you try and be equal across the board, but for example, if an endurance rider who has been competing for years arrives at vetting a couple of minutes late, the AERA rules state that horse and rider will be disqualified and the CS decision to enforce this is expected.

With that said, in contrast, if a young family or individual arrive at vetting at their first ever 20km or 40km ride a couple of minutes late you would ask if they were aware, which they should be from the pre-ride talk. You would then continue to educate them and express to them what the consequences are. You then make your decision with all factors considered, including the vetting result, and advise of a decision that will be more lenient than the previous case.

What are your pet hates and how can riders make the official’s role easier? I wouldn’t say I have a pet hate; I hope that I encourage a relaxed and approachable atmosphere as a CS and certainly know that I may not always have an answer or solution to a problem, but will liaise with relevant people to make a fair decision.

It is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek joke in endurance that when riders put their helmet on, they become maybe a little …. different… to their normal state of being, and I say this with love and respect for riders as I do it myself. The vet rings have a direction of flow and when you are scanning cards to log vetting times etc you must ensure riders do not multi-scan and continue in the correct flow. When you are so focused on your horse’s manner and condition entering the vet ring the last thing you are thinking about is your scan card and peripheral happenings are a bit hazy. Gently prompting riders and a bit of empathy here is well accepted and sometimes necessary.

Anything further you wish to elaborate on? Endurance is a great sport, spanning probably the greatest age range in riders in the equestrian disciplines. The limitations on horse breed, age and ability, as well as tack, are minimal and thus attainable by anyone. Although Arabs and derivatives are the most popular, it is not unusual to see a Quarter Horse, Stock Horse, Thoroughbred or pony out on track. History will show a few mules even doing endurance, and at the end of the day our motto ‘To complete is to win’ is certainly celebrated.

The Vet team, Ride Organising Committee, Volunteers and the CS are always elated to see a rider vet through and share their smiles and achievements. We have also commiserated with those who vet out and empathise with them. Every ride is a learning opportunity whatever the outcome and although the vet ring can be a busy place, I think that you can always find someone for a bit of advice whether it be an official, fellow rider or volunteer.

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