2022 marks the 30th staging of the North West Equestrian Expo. With the exception of 2020 every year for the past 30 years each May or June an interschool Equestrian event has been staged at the Coonabarabran Showground. The Expo is the largest High School Equestrian Event in Australia - it is also the oldest continually running event of its kind.
The first Equestrian event was held on the 6th May1992. This was part of the Ag Expo hosted by Coonabarabran High School. The first event was held over one day and catered for flatwork and show jumping. In a letter sent out to competing schools on the 29th April 1992 organiser Carol Waterer said, "We have been overwhelmed with the response to our horse events, with approximately 100 riders participating."
By 1997 the event was known as the North West Equestrian Expo and was held over four days attracting nearly 400 riders from all over the state. In an article in The Land on 19th June 1997 the Expo was being hailed as the biggest horse riding competition outside Sydney Royal. Events included Hacking, Sporting, Team Events, Jumping and Eventing.
Fast Forward 2022 Expo runs over five days incorporating those same disciplines as 1997 in addition to Polocrosse, Team Penning, Dressage, Working Horse Challenge, Warrumbungles Way, Expo Pentathlon and Expo Gymkhana. Numbers are capped at 500 and over 100 schools are represented with up to 600 horses.
Some of the riders competing at this year’s event are children of those first Expo riders including locals Alex Letts, Hannah and Izzi Evans. Some of the Head Stewards from the first Expos notably Shaen and Richard Blackman are still very involved in the eventing while former riders Mick Doolan, Ren Letts and Lucy Evans have become Head Stewards and part of the Organising Committee.
The town of Coonabarabran with a population of 2,500 doubles in size for the Expo week and there is a real buzz around town. Many of the local businesses have been rug sponsors for the past 30 years and the whole town supports this event which is a major boost to the town's economy.
Over the past 30 years thousands of riders have had the opportunity to represent their school in a sport outside traditional school structure. In a sport that can be seen to focus on individual success Expo has focused on team events Polocrosse, Team Penning, Team Six Bar and Team Barrel and recognising a school’s success in most of the disciplines in the competition.
The program caters for riders of all abilities and experience in most events with graded Eventing, Combined Training, Showjumping, Dressage and Polocrosse, enabling all riders to compete safely with others of a similar experience level. The standard at the top level of all disciplines is extremely high with some riders going on to represent Australia in their chosen field after school. The overall focus of the Expo has not changed markedly over the past 30 years. Competitors still display the same sportsmanship, horsemanship and passion for their mounts while representing their school that was the cornerstone of the philosophy of the founders of this iconic event 30 years ago.
The Expo Committee and Head Stewards hope that all riders and their families have a safe and enjoyable week at Expo 2022.
Trophies to be presented at the grand parade on Tuesday. Riders must be mounted.