31 Jan 2022 New South Wales Rider chased more than a high jump record.
Once described as possessing a ‘frail’ physique, Australian rider Esther Martha Mumford Stace stockpiled her grit when hunting wild dingos in the mountains and scrub terrain in Yarrowitch.
Stace set the Australian showgrounds alight with her debut ride at the Walcha Show in 1891 at age twenty and never looked back. In the Ladies Jumping Contest with two other competitors, Stace topped a fence of five feet six inches before the show referee and judges abruptly halted the contest citing safety concerns.
The Ladies Jumping Contest attracted fifteen hundred people but only drew three women to the show ring. The cessation of the jump-off after one rider failed a five foot two inches fence leaving Stace and one other contestant tied resulted in a blue ribbon and five guineas for each woman but not a high jumping title.
Stace’s riding branded as masterful and fearless in steeplechases, hunting, and jumping contests shaded her actual talent to calm a fractious, runaway horse with grace. A fixture on the Royal Agricultural shows circuit for twenty years, Stace racked up records and notoriety in the equestrian world.
The side-saddle may have been Stace’s seat, but her scarlet plush competition outfit with a matching hat matched the fierceness of her competitive spirit. But it would be a twelve-year-old gelding named Emu Plains that ferried Stace to stardom.
Standing at sixteen hands, Emu Plains had already demonstrated his jumping skill before the Sydney Royal Easter Show by securing wins in 1910, 1912, and 1914. Stocky in physique and fractious in nature, Emu Plains required Stace’s skilled and delicate control.
Setting the jump that would become the one to beat required a great deal of planning. Determining the jumping point for judges to assess and the voluminous riding habit threatened to unravel Stace’s effort. The 1915 show had already been canceled by the breakout of the First World War in 1914. The number of riders and horses commissioned to serve gutted the event.
Complications didn’t deter Stace, however, and in the spring of 1915, Stace steered Emu Plains over a six-foot six-inch in the ladies’ high jump competition.
Be sure to read more about women side-saddle jumpers breaking barriers and setting records in my Features article for The Chronicle of the Horse – Untacked. Side-saddle riding and jumping are in the midst of a renaissance in the equestrian world. Flying high has never been more challenging or popular!