The return of showjumping to the South East will be welcomed when the Easter Festival leaps back into action tomorrow at Blue Lake Sports Park.
The four-day event run by the Mount Gambier Showjumping Club has grown to be a regular fixture in the Limestone Coast sporting calendar and one of the biggest of its kind in South Australia since 1982.
However, the impact of coronavirus forced the iconic festival to be cancelled for the first time in its proud 39-year history, but more than 100 of the country’s top riders and horses are back this weekend.
Club president David Johnson said it would be great for the showjump fraternity when the first horse enters the ring. “It is not only exciting for us, but for many competitors as well,” he said. “It has been a mainstay on the jumping calendar for nearly 40 years and last year was the first one we missed.
“The State Championships is the main one, but our festival is up there with the Jim Dunn Memorial at Strathalbyn and the Adelaide Hills Showjumping Club.” The mandatory COVID sign in and sanitising stations will not be the only visible changes this weekend.
Due to the velodrome infield at the sports park being redeveloped, horses will not jump at the familiar cauldron and will instead tackle two baseball diamonds.
Johnson said the addition of a second ring and a new location would offer even more challenges for competitors. “Ring one is more technical because that is where the championship classes are, while ring two has opportunities for folks with horses returning from injury or young riders to be part of it all,” he said.
With horses and riders being starved of action recently, Johnson said the club was delighted with the field of entries. “Given there was nothing last year, everyone is keen to come out and jump,” he said. “We will be having over 1000 rounds of jumping over the weekend, which is much bigger than normal.”
The list of competitors includes high-calibre riders such as Victoria’s Russell Morrison, former Grand Prix winner Tori Stuckey, Connor Reid, former World Cup entrant Katie Clarke, Adam Crouch and South Australian Senior State champion Anthony Thomas.
With so much quality expected to take part, Johnson can’t wait for activity to begin. “There are some really good horses and riders, so I am expecting a great show,” he said. “We are rapt with the support from the entrants and the City and District Council.”
Jumping starts at 8.30am tomorrow with horses on show across all four days, while the City of Mount Gambier Senior Grand Prix and the John Wilsher Memorial Blue Lake Stakes will end proceedings with a bang on Monday.