DECISION TIME: Kilkivan Great Horse Ride sponsor Melissa Boully says the ride committee faces a hard decision on Saturday. Photo Donna Jones.
DECISION TIME: Kilkivan Great Horse Ride sponsor Melissa Boully says the ride committee faces a hard decision on Saturday. Photo Donna Jones.

Disaster threat to iconic Kilkivan horse event

AUSTRALIA'S national bushfire crisis has posed a new threat to Gympie region's iconic Kilkivan Great Horse Ride.

As extreme drought continues to create dangerous fire conditions across the region, particularly in parched western districts, ride organisers have called a general meeting for Saturday to test whether the event should go ahead as planned in April.

Organisers must be hoping bad news comes in threes, because the event this year is facing its fourth crisis year in a row.

The threat in 2020 comes from fire danger affecting participants, supporters and even properties across the whole surrounding Kilkivan district.

Established in 1986, the ride has become a classic on the equestrian calendar.

Each year participants commemorate Gympie region's pioneering days with a ride through country not normally accessible to the public, including old coach routes and tracks which are now on private property.

Kilkivan great Horse Ride president Hilary Smerdon said yesterday organisers would have to consider any risk to property owners, especially in a time of extreme drought when even a spark struck by a horseshoe on a rock could mean disaster.

He said the ride was generally intended to be held in April, but organisers had called a general meeting of the ride organisation, to consider a plan to postpone the event once again, if necessary.

It is the second time in three years that weather has forced a postponement and the fourth year in a row that the event has been threatened with disaster..

Heat forced a weather-linked delay in 2017, Mr Smerdon said.

Telecommunications problems crashed the event financially in 2018, when mobile ATMs did not work and patrons could not access their spending money.

"We had $45,000 in the ATMs but no-one could get a cent," Mr Smerdon said.

Last year's event was postponed to September to take in the official opening of the new Kilkivan Equestrian Centre.

When unfinished work forced a delay in the centre's opening, the event went ahead without it anyway, but not without serious concerns.

Mr Smerdon said he did not particularly want the event postponed, but there was concern in the community and it was important to find out what people wanted.

The meeting will be held at Kilkivan Showgrounds at 9am Saturday.

Ride sponsor, equestrian enthusiast and owner of Gympie Saddleworld, Melissa Boully said organisers faced a difficult decision which sponsors would view with sympathy, as much of the nation faced bushfire devastation.

"I support the committee and community in making such a difficult decision during tough times.

"I do however, think it would be great if we could keep the event on the calendar in 2020, with a risk mitigation plan in place.

"It might be a great positive for the local economy during these terrible times of drought and fire.

"We are one day closer to rain and the drought will break eventually.

"Trail riding associations are growing nationally and they are really popular here in our Gympie Region too.

"People just love riding horses and the beauty of trail riding is that it's for everyone, there are no barriers, all family members can trail ride if they are interested. It's a great way to attract sports tourism dollars into our local economy.

"We will continue to support the event in any way we can. I believe the Great Kilkivan Horse ride has huge potential to grow and attract large numbers to our region," she said.

Gympie Times

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