Krambach's Karen Anderson to ride in the 2019 Tom Quilty Gold Cup horse endurance race

Family support: Karen Anderson's daughter, Holly sometimes help tend to Puddling and the other horses on their Krambach property. Photo: Anne Keen
Family support: Karen Anderson's daughter, Holly sometimes help tend to Puddling and the other horses on their Krambach property. Photo: Anne Keen

For Krambach's Karen Anderson, taking part in the annual 24 hour Tom Quilty Gold Cup horse endurance race is all about the buckle.

In fact, she has left a spot for the 2019 one in her vast collection which already includes two from this epic 160 kilometre event.

"It's like the Melbourne Cup of the endurance world. It attracts the best riders and best horses from around the world," Karen smiled. "It's an iconic Australian event that celebrates the historical bond between human and horse."

And this bond is crucial to this event, with horse and rider taking off at midnight to complete five legs of roughly 40 kilometre stints.

"It's just me, a headlight and my horse," she said. "There will be many hours where I won't see anyone else."

But it's this aspect of the event that she loves - riding a horse in the Australian bush. It's a far trot from the city of Newcastle where she lived most of her life, growing up with parents who had no experience living life on the land.

There will be many hours where I won't see anyone else.

Karen Anderson

"I've always been drawn to the land and to horses. It almost drove me crazy as a child," she explained.

Being adopted, she didn't know her family history until years later, when she learned she came from a long line of country women. So for Karen, riding horses in her blood. And nothing was going to stop her, not even being catapulted into a tree during her first ever riding experience at the age of five.

When she was eight, she begged her parents to let her go on a two week riding school.

"I remember I was so excited. I remember counting down the days," she smiled.

After that experience, she was hooked. She got her first horse, Thunder, when she was 13-years-old.

Her first experience with endurance riding came 18 years ago, when her neighbour asked her to come to a Hawkesbury River event as a 'strapper', the person who tends to the horse during rest periods.

Karen has left a spot in her collection to add the 2019 Tom Quilty Gold Cup buckle.

Karen has left a spot in her collection to add the 2019 Tom Quilty Gold Cup buckle.

"When I was first introduced to the sport, I wondered where it had been all my life. To combine my love of bush with horses is pretty special."

She's been involved ever since, competing in eight events a year, with the Tom Quilty being the pinnacle. The event attracts around 300 riders, who have all had to qualify by completing a 160 kilometre ride previously, and is held in a different State each year.

On Friday, July 12 at midnight, Karen will take part in the 54th event at Imbil in the Gympie area of Queensland. It's the third time she's taken on the event, with the last time riding for the NSW team in 2017, on Mallee. This year, she's riding independently on Mallee's 12-year-old little brother, Pudding, as Mallee has been retired.

"In endurance, to complete is to win," Karen said. "In this event, only one person will take home the cup but there will be many winners."

The horse's welfare is paramount throughout the event and every animal is checked by a veterinarian during each break and can only continue if given the 'thumbs up'. Just making it through the 24-hour ride without any sleep and little rest, isn't enough. At the end, the horse is checked by three vets and has to be given the all clear before the competitor is declared to have finished the race.

"You can hear a penny drop during that last trot out. No one wants anyone to be vetted out at the end."

In endurance, to complete is to win. In this event, only one person will take home the cup but there will be many winners.

Karen Anderson

Everyone who finishes gets a coveted buckle.

In the lead up, Karen and Pudding have been training together, taking on tracks in the rugged terrain around the Krambach property she moved to four years ago. Outside of training with her horse, Karen runs and does pilates.

"If you're not fit, you're no good for your horse," Karen explained. "There is quite a lot of time spent running beside the horse on steep descents." It's all about protecting the animal and reducing the wear and tear on its body.

For the rider, Karen knows it's going to hurt, so she tries to prepare herself for the "onslaught".

Although it seems like a independent event, Karen sees it as a group effort.

"It's not just the horse and rider. It's things like my neighbour, who lets me use her property to access the nearby State forest for training, it's my vet, my farrier, and even my mechanic, who's getting my vehicle ready for the drive."