The Garryowen


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Garryowen and Violet Murrell. Garryowen and Violet Murrell.

The Garryowen Turnout Perpetual Turnout Trophy has been part of the Royal Melbourne Show since 1934 and is the Melbourne Cup of show riding! It’s also the only turnout event to feature on the evening news and in the newspapers.

The event is held in memory of Violet Murrell, who was killed in a stable fire trying to rescue her horses and dogs on March 24, 1934 in Latrobe Street, Mentone (a Melbourne suburb).

Violet was married to William (Bill) Murrell and was only 29 years old when she died. At 2.30am, the barking of her Blue Heeler dog Billy woke a neighbour, who saw the stable on fire, which had started in the feed and harness area. Her cries woke Violet, who raced out dressed only in her nightclothes to free her horse Garryowen, Billy and and a three year old racing filly named Piquant. Alas, all were overcome by flames and smoke.

The two horses and dog perished in the fire while Bill risked his own life to try and rescue Violet; she was taken to hospital but died 37 hours later. Ten days later, Bill also died from the burns he received.

Violet and Garryowen were well-known in the Australian showing scene, having won Champion Hack two years running at both Sydney and Melbourne Royals. She came from a horsey family and regularly competed in racing both on the flat and over hurdles as well as point to points. Hogged manes were the norm back then and when she was young, she ‘hogged’ the mane of her rocking horse, much to her parents’ dismay!

She was given Garryowen by his breeder, who thought they would do well together. Garryowen was a rich bay standing 15.2hh and Violet began showing him when he was five years old.

2011 Newcomer Winner, Heidi Pickstock and DP Amazing. 2011 Newcomer Winner, Heidi Pickstock and DP Amazing.

After her death, it was decided to host an an event at Melbourne Royal to honour the memory of Violet and Garryowen; money was donated to purchase a 30cm bronze trophy of Garryowen (each year’s winner is given a replica trophy), as well as a sash featuring a medallion with a photo of Violet and Garryowen.

The event has been held at Melbourne Royal for the past 72 years and is among the most coveted by lady equestriennes. For the first few years (1934-1938), only a winner and runner-up were awarded and in 1939 placings were increased to sixth.

Winner of the first two Garryowen events was Kitty Sutherland riding ‘Jones’ and she was delighted, having known Violet Murrell and often ridden against her. In fact, many of those early winners knew and had competed against Violet.

arly Garryowen events had around 15-20 competitors, who would all file in and line up, waiting for their turn to be inspected and work out. Gradually class sizes increased and it was not unusual for competitors to be waiting for over four hours for their turn.

“I had a long and boring wait in drizzle for my five minute workout–three to four hours in the saddle gave me a sore bottom,” commented 1953 winner, Ann Tate, who rode Don Quixote.

Finally in 1981 the event was split into batches...12 horse and rider combinations were judged at a time and then left the arena. When judging was complete, all competitors filed back into the main arena for the announcement of the winner and placegetters.

Numbers have slowly decreased over the past few years...the 2011 event had 20 starters which included five riders competing in their first Garryowen. They were each awarded a medallion, which were awarded for the first time this year. One rider is selected as the best newcomer and this year it was awarded to Heidi Pickstock, who also placed fifth overall.

The top saddle is one Violet Murrel used on Garryowen.  The bottom saddle is one typically used by competitors in today The top saddle is one Violet Murrel used on Garryowen. The bottom saddle is one typically used by competitors in today's Garryowen event.

Eligibility

The Garryowen is open to lady riders aged 18 years and over competing in riding and/or saddle horse events at Melbourne Royal. Horses must be over 14 hands and also be entered in the saddle horse section of the show (the only galloway to have won a Garryowen was 14.2hh Princess ridden by Marie Hoad in 1956). You don’t need to be the horse’s owner...you can compete on a borrowed horse wearing borrowed clothing for that matter!

Clothing & Saddlery

Fit and quality of saddlery and clothing is very important. The rider’s jacket, vest and breeches should be tailor-made; jackets are traditionally a 22oz black cavalry twill fabric with a hand stitched edge. All button holes should undo. Breeches are hand-stitched cavalry twill. Stocks are starched and freshly tied and fastened with a plain gold stock pin (some competitors have three or more stocks as if it’s not tied property at the first go, it has to be undone which leaves creases). Gold oval cufflinks connected with a chain and not a bar must be worn. Top boots should be immaculate (including the soles) and have correctly fitted spur straps with the buckle fastened in the middle of the strap. Spurs should be level and not tilt up or down. Bootstraps should be done up between the second and third button on the breeches but these days they are more traditional than functional, as their original purpose was to hold the boot up and stop it collapsing at the ankle. Modern boots have stiff uppers so bootstraps aren’t necessary. A leather covered hacking cane matching the saddlery should be carried and woollen gloves with a pearl button worn.

Bowler hats were traditional headwear but competitors have been required to wear an approved safety hat with chinstrap since 2003. Hair should be neat and sewn in with no hairpins visible and riders should carry a gold coin in one pocket and a white lace-edged hanky in their right pocket. The cuffs of the turnout shirt should be starched and just poking out of the jacket sleeves.

Riders should have no VPL (Visible Panty Line!) and their make-up understated with no eyeshadow or dark lipstick.

Saddles (which cost around $4,000) are usually special turnout saddles that have covered buttons, stitched girth points and buckle guards. The stirrup leathers are double layered and also stitched, and can cost around $250+ a pair while the stirrups are usually worn without rubber treads.

2011 Garryowen winner, Stephanie Barrington riding LA. 2011 Garryowen winner, Stephanie Barrington riding LA.

The bridle should have a plain leather browband and cavesson noseband with all buckles on the same hole, preferably in the middle of the straps an not towards the ends. The bit and bradoon (double bridle bits) must be highly polished and show no signs of ‘pitting’.

All leather on the bridle, saddle, girth and stirrup leathers should match and be in soft, supple condition.

Saddleblankets are fitted sheekskin numnahs that match everything as closely as possible.

Why the gardenia?

The gardenia buttonhole is worn by competitors in the Garryowen as a tribute to Violet Murrell. Cornflower buttonholes were traditional in the English showing world but as these weren’t available here, Lady Somers, wife of the then Governor of Victoria, suggested a gardenia which were popular in the 1930’s.

Scoring

Six judges are used; one for the horse’s manners and paces, one for riding, one for saddlery, one for the rider’s costume, one for the horse’s conformation and soundness and one for general appearance of horse and rider. Each judge gives points and these are tallied up at the end to determine the final placegetters.

At the end of judging, all competitors are called back into the arena and the winners announced, starting from sixth place upwards.

Points are as follows:

Mount

Conformation and soundness–50

Manners and paces–40

Equipment

Saddlery–20

Costume–20

Riding Ability–50

General Appearance–20

Total–200

The most prolific winner is Vicky Lawrie who has taken out the event an amazing SIX times on three different horses (Picasso, Breughel and Kings). She has also been placed several times including second place when she once forgot her hacking cane.

Other multiple winners include Caroline Wagner and Helen Heagney who have both won four Garryowen Trophies.

The 2008 event was won by Shae Hanger (and who placed second in the 2011 Garryowen)...Violet Murrel was her great-great aunt. Shae has Violet’s riding coat, helmet and a diamante-clad tie clip.

This year’s Garryowen was won by 20 year old Stephanie Barrington riding ex-racehorse, LA.

When interviewed after being sashed, Stephanie commented, “Whenever someone asked me in school what I wanted to do, I’d say ‘win the Garryowen’ but no-one knew what I was talking about!”

A happy Stephanie poses with the Garryowen trophy. A happy Stephanie poses with the Garryowen trophy.

The most prolific winner is Vicky Lawrie who has taken out the event an amazing SIX times on three different horses (Picasso, Breughel and Kings). She has also been placed several times including second place when she once forgot her hacking cane.

Other multiple winners include Caroline Wagner and Helen Heagney who have both won four Garryowen Trophies.

The 2008 event was won by Shae Hanger (and who placed second in the 2011 Garryowen)...Violet Murrel was her great-great aunt. Shae has Violet’s riding coat, helmet and a diamante-clad tie clip.

This year’s Garryowen was won by 20 year old Stephanie Barrington riding ex-racehorse, LA.

When interviewed after being sashed, Stephanie commented, “Whenever someone asked me in school what I wanted to do, I’d say ‘win the Garryowen’ but no-one knew what I was talking about!”

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