In endurance, the clock stops when you cross the finish line, but the race isn’t over. The horse has 30 minutes to present to and pass a final vet check for their placing to be counted; like the vet checks during the race, among other things the horse must have a heartrate back below 60 bpm.
“He took seven minutes to pulse down to 44 bpm. It blew me away. When I got off at the end I just left it to my crew because I didn’t want my horse to feel my stress. My crew are good at what they do and that was their job. They called me over and said, ‘Ashley, you’re going to have to make a call as to whether to present to the vet’, and I thought, ‘Oh my word, his heartrate must be high’… but it was down to 48 bpm at that point after about four minutes. We gave him another minute or so and then called it; we went into the vet check at 44 bpm. He’s a phenomenal horse, it blows me away just thinking about it afterwards.
“I put a lot of my success down to my crew. We had him cooled down completely when he left for that last leg. He didn’t even get hot on the last leg; we were running at 25km per hour. The horse that was running behind me, I didn’t see it, but had it caught up I knew Novak could have done something. I knew he felt good enough.”
While Ashley was confident in her horse’s ability heading into the race, she didn’t expect to finish in the time that she did – the third fastest result in history at 8 hours and 44 minutes. “As far as time was concerned, I thought we’d end up coming in at about 10 hours; you only ever go as fast as you need to go to win.”
Ashley says the win was surreal and after the early start and long race, although not in any pain, she was tired. “You get a bit tired, because you’re up before midnight and you probably don’t really get to sleep… when you go to bed at about 7 or 8pm (before the race) you try and close your eyes a bit before you have to get up again, but you don’t actually sleep. It’s kind of 48 hours without sleep. But we’re used to it; it’s what we do. We don’t think about being tired.”
She says that like in any equestrian sport, the horses must come first and their health is paramount. “The endurance motto is ‘fit to continue’. Horses, at the end of any distance, whether it’s 40km or 160km, they must be fit to continue.”
A PHENOMENAL HORSE
Nine-year-old Arabian stallion Tonki Dee Boo Novak was the equine star of the 2023 Tom Quilty, and although Ashley is from NZ, Novak hails from “little old Tasmania”. “He’s from quite a famous stud in Tasmania called Tonki Dee Boo. It has some incredible endurance champions around the world. I still keep in touch with the breeders, Keryn and Chris Mahoney, and they’re very proud because this is the first time that they’ve had a champion on Australian soil. Most of their horses end up in the UAE.”