Australian equestrianism and its start in South Australia?
“Did modern equestrianism start in Adelaide?” – not just any sort of horse riding and training, but the thinking, kinder ‘kind’ of horsemanship, coupled with two other critical elements for any success; vision and excellence.
Perhaps, for the era, kinder horse training in Australia started right here in Adelaide in the 1860’s at the SA Mounted Cadre, when Commissioner George Hamilton wrote an Appeal for the Horse. Visionary for its time, as in those days no RSPCA existed and most horses worked for a living.
Alongside the work horses, the social riding scene was well patronized, including the Royal Adelaide Show (est.1836), the Adelaide Polo Club (est.1886), Adelaide Riding Club (est.1930), the Turf Club of SA (est.1838), and the Adelaide Hunt Club (est.1840).
Around this time, Light Horse troops were also formed, trained and sent to battle in Egypt, Palestine and Gallipoli. The trough and Obelisk a lasting memorial to their bravery. Located on the corner of North & South Terrace a service dedicated to horses is held at the site each year on Anzac Day.
In 1846 Police Inspector Alexander Tolmer wagered a bet his horse could trot the fastest. It was Tolmer who later, as Commissioner of Police, saved the state’s wealth from certain theft by establishing the Gold Escort (1852). A reenactment of the 700 km Gold Escort ride from Castlemaine (VIC) to Mount Barker (SA) took place in 1986, undertaken by SAPOL mounted Officers and members of the Adelaide Trail Horse Riders Club.
The Mounted Cadre, a reference point for a high level of horsemanship in the state, appointed Tom Roberts as Instructor in the 1940’s. Tom also helped establish the Dressage Club of SA, while instructing, judging or educating many riders, including members of Western Districts Riding Club (est.1937). Tom went on to author four books, which have inspired many a modern day horse owner.
The next two decades witnessed a convergence of horsemanship excellence in Adelaide. Reginald Murray Williams (RMW), who was given a start in business by Sir Sidney Kidman, became a philanthropist, mentor and worker behind the establishment of many of the organisational structures of today’s horse community. The visionary RMW initiated the Hoofs & Horns Magazine in 1945, which acted as the newsletter for many horse organisations. It featured club updates, poetry, photos and educational articles by Tom Roberts (under the pen name of ‘Weedon’) and Margaret Clarke (pen name of ‘Sagittarius’).
RMW also helped establish the Australian Rough Riders Assoc (1945) and Equestrian Australia (1951), the latter whose national office only relocated from Adelaide to Sydney in 2003. In what was to be a masterstroke, RM sponsored Franz Maringier to settle in Adelaide in 1952. Two years later Franz was appointed head coach for the Equestrian Federation, moved to NSW and guided the Australian equestrian team to Olympic medals in Rome, Montreal, and Mexico.
The vision cast itself onto sacred turf, when the International Equestrian Expo organizing committee secured Adelaide Oval to host a pony club square dance and the Wedding of Count Potoski. Attended by HRH Princess Anne & Captain Mark Phillips.
In 1986 Gawler hosted the World Eventing Championships, and now the current four-star ranked Australian International Three Day Event. The state’s riders excelled on the eventing international stage too, with Olympic medals won in eventing by Gillian Rolton OAM (twice), Wendy Schaeffer, and Megan Jones.
The National Museum of Australia also provides a potted history and South Australia certainly features.
Did modern Australian equestrianism start in Adelaide? Adelaide certainly has fostered her fair share of thinkers and contributors, that’s for sure.
As we prepare for the launch of a book celebrating the life and work of horseman Tom Roberts, we reflect on our State’s contribution to the national body of knowledge about hores training and care-
inspired by the horses of Adelaide.