Barastoc Horse of the Year Show History

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Barastoc Horse of the Year has grown to be one of Australia’s biggest and most prestigious horse shows, attracting thousands of exhibitors and spectators from throughout Australia and New Zealand, with major titles decided by international judges.

The first Barastoc Hack, Galloway and Pony of the Year was in 1970 when organisers of the Victorian Showjumping Championships, held at Melbourne’s Olympic Park dog racing complex on the banks of the Yarra River, decided a ‘top ten’ of Victoria’s best show horses in each of the height groups would be a good fill-in for spectators to watch in between four jumping events. It was the brain-child of Peter Gahan (an EFA committee member and mill manager for Barastoc horse feeds) and the late Fred Wiltshire, who thought it would be a way to get competitors to give country shows support, with the top ten point scorers in each of the three heights getting to compete. Points were earned at Victorian agricultural shows–5 points for champion, 4 points for reserve champion and 3 points for a first placing.

At these early Barastoc events, horses had to warm up on the banks of the Yarra beside busy Batman Avenue and work out weaving around showjumps on the Olympic Park arena. Parking was tight and horses had to be either tied up to floats on the bitumen carpark (which was very uncomfortable on hot days), or kept in their floats.

Lure, ridden by Malcolm Barnes. Lure, ridden by Malcolm Barnes.

The winner of the first Barastoc Pony of the Year was Birrahlee Christopher, a black Australian Pony gelding owned by Margaret McIntyre. The Galloway title went to RJ Thomas’ Shanandoah, ridden by Beverley Thomas. Hack of the Year was Lure, a grey ex-racehorse owned by Mrs D Wilson and beautifully ridden by Malcolm Barnes. Lure went on to win Hack of the Year another three times…in 1971, 1972 and 1974, a record that stood until equalled by Vicki Ward’s Picasso, who won over four consecutive years from 1981 to 1984.

Barastoc soon became the event every show rider wanted to win.

In 1977, it was decided to use pre-set workouts designed by Peter and Marie (a dressage rider) Gahan after problems getting the three invited judges to agree on a workout. These set workouts were designed to give judges a view of the horses in all paces showing both sides, with flying changes being optional.

In 1979 the points system had to be scrapped as the event had become so popular, parents were keeping their children away from school and birthday parties in order to qualify! The event had out-grown Olympic Park and was moved to Melbourne Showgrounds in Ascot Vale, which meant more horses could qualify and compete in preliminary classes in the morning, with the final ten chosen to compete in the afternoon’s finals. Three judges were still used, and after watching the top 10 horses work out, they conferred to agree on their final winner. A fourth event, Shetland of the Year was added in 1989.

Quicksand won the 1974 Barastoc Galloway of the Year title. Quicksand won the 1974 Barastoc Galloway of the Year title.

By 1990 organisers had a problem with the Melbourne Showgrounds venue, as for the previous three years it had made a substantial financial loss. This was mostly due to the fact there were so many entry points which meant spectators were getting in for nothing. Another problem was that with so many entries, parking on the grounds was tight, which represented a hazard in the event of a fire.

So in 1991 a huge decision was made to move the event to the Werribee Park National Equestrian centre. “It will never be the same,” traditionalists cried, but move the show did for the second time in history. Competitors and organisers soon discovered the space at Werribee Park was a big advantage…there was ample float parking and events were held on the ever-green polo area. The number of judges was increased to four–each one judged a preliminary section with the four coming together for the final Horse of the Year events.

1993 saw the introduction of small pony (under 12.2hh) and large pony while the Silver Anniversary of the event in 1994 awarded winners an overseas trip. The Newcomers and Leading Rein classes were added during this year. ‘Conception Garlands’ made their first appearance in 1997 and now all Horse of the Year champions receive one of these prized garlands.

The 1994 catalogue cover. The 1994 catalogue cover.

ASPB Pony of the Year was introduced in 1998, along with Show Hunters. The year 2000 was notable for the Barastoc committee deciding all junior riders would have to wear an approved safety hat after a young rider had a nasty fall at Adelaide Show. Up until then, riders wore thin-shelled velvet hats with no chin straps, which didn’t offer much protection in the event of a fall. Traditional showies complained that the approved safety hats were ugly, but the rule was enforced and soon spread to senior riders as well. Gone were the days of top hats and bowlers.

Owner Rider events were adopted in 2001, these were for non-professional riders who had to fit showing around holding down a job.

Up until now, showjumping had been part of Barastoc Horse of the Year show, but in 2002 with sponsorship increasingly hard to get, the decision was made to drop top-level jumping and only retain showjumping events for school-age riders.

A big part of Barastoc has been veteran announcer, Graeme Barker who has been with the event since before the very first Horse of the Year classes, as he was commentating at the Victorian Showjumping Championships before the show horse events were added.

The International Challenge evolved in 2004…the top ten horses in each open section of the previous year are automatically invited to perform a workout to music in the indoor arena on the Saturday evening, under an overseas judge. Guests can buy tickets to the dinner, held in the spectator area, and watch the workouts.

Shetland of the Year was added in 1989. Shetland of the Year was added in 1989.

The 2007 Barastoc Horse of the Year was a scorcher, with temperature rarely dropping below 39C. That year the event expanded another day to incorporate new events, such as working hunters. The 2008 show was complicated by the outbreak of Equine Influenza, which saw most show events around Australia cancelled. This meant horses were unable to compete so organizers dropped qualifying requirements and accepted entries on the basis that if the show was cancelled, these would be refunded. Everything turned out okay in the end…even the weather was perfect!

Two Barastoc shows were affected by major bushfires. Just four days before the 1983 event, the Ash Wednesday fires claimed 78 lives, and countless homes and livestock. The fires affected many competitors and organisers. No-one dreamed such an occurrence would happen again…but in 2009 the Black Saturday fires broke out just prior to the 2009 event, leaving 173 people dead, along with thousands of homes destroyed, and huge stock losses, including many horses. Due to an unprecedented heatwave that saw record high temperatures in the lead-up to the fires, many competitors opted to stay home rather than leave their property and livestock. Those that went to the show attended a touching memorial service held in Werribee’s indoor arena.

Commissioned artwork for the ruby anniversary catalogue featuring past winners–Spring Holly of Astral, Da Vinci, Picasso and Rhyl Simplicity. Commissioned artwork for the ruby anniversary catalogue featuring past winners–Spring Holly of Astral, Da Vinci, Picasso and Rhyl Simplicity.

While it’s rarely rained during a Barasoc show, it’s held during the hottest part of summer and competitors often endure scorching temperatures. One international judge had to retire from the ring due to heat stress.

The 40th Ruby Anniversary of the show was celebrated with a special booklet recording the event’s full history and past winners. Print run was limited but it makes fascinating reading, and there is an abundance of nostalgic photos. The show expanded again that year to include breed led and ridden events.

For the 2012 Barastoc show, Equestrian Victoria are producing a print magazine titled Collections, print run will be limited so pre-ordering is recommended. Visit the Barastoc HOY website for more information. If it’s a success, no doubt it will be published every year, making a unique record of the event and the only show to boast its own print magazine.

So from a small ‘after-thought’ event during showjumping championships at a dog racing track, Horse of the Year evolved into a prestigious show, proudly sponsored by Barastoc for over 40 years. The name Barastoc stands for BAlanced RAtions for STOCk. No doubt it will continue for many years to come!

Note: As much as we’d love to list every winner since 1970, there are just too many. Previous winners are sometimes listed in the event catalogue, space permitting.

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