Updated: Apr 16, 2021
Her 'frail' physique belied the amazing ability Esther Stace had when in control over a large horse. She was known as an outstanding equestrian and even broke a record or too.
Born in Port Macquarie Esther Martha Stace (nee Munford) made her debut horse-riding at the Walcha Show in 1891 at 20 years old. She was often known to take part in dingo hunts in the mountains and scrub about Yarrowitch. At the Walcha show that year, there were three women who entered the ladies jumping contest. While one contestant failed at 5 feet 2 inches, Esther and her last competitor made it to 5 feet 6 inches before the contest was stopped. There were around 1500 people watching the event.
Picture 1: Esther Stace completing her record-breaking side-saddle jump on Emu Plains at 6 feet 6 inches at the Sydney Show in 1915. Source: The Morning Feed
Esther went on to spend a good 20 years on the Royal Agricultural Show circuit showing off her skills with the horses. She was one of the best known figures in NSW when it came to steeplechases and hunting contests. At the time of her death in 1918 she held the record for the highest ladies jump on a horse at 6 feet, 6 inches on the horse Emu Plains, which happened at the Sydney Show in 1915.
Esther always rode side-saddle and wore a scarlet plush outfit when she was competing. Her regular horse was the great jumper Desmond, owned by Mr H. D. Morton, and who she guided to many victories in numerous contests. Her ability to calm even the most difficult horse was legendary, showing her skill and love for horses. The Richmond River Express Examiner reported that at one time she held the ladies high jump record for Casino showground at 6 feet.
In an unrelated case, in 1898 Esther and her farmer husband William gave statements to a coronial enquiry into the burning down of the local Yarrowitch school, not far from where they lived.
"On the 28th about 7 o'clock I passed near to the school," said Esther in her statement.
"I was going up to feed my horse; about 11 o'clock I saw the school was on fire, the noise of the fire awoke me."
The finding of the inquiry was the school had been burned down 'feloniously and wilfully set on fire by some person or persons unknown'.
Esther was only 46 years old when she succumbed to illness, dying at her home in Granville, Sydney. The hearse at her funeral was followed by a led horse carrying her side saddle, draped with the many ribbons she won during her long career in the show ring. She left behind her daughter Ruby ( better known as Phyllis) and sons Herbert and Leo who were at war at the time of her death. She was buried in Walcha cemetery near her mother.
Picture 2: Walcha Catholic Cemetery where Esther was buried near her mother Margaret Munford. Photo: Find-a-grave
Her record of a side-saddle high jump of 6 feet 6 inches wouldn't be broken for another 98 years, until Irish jumper Susan Oakes on Atlas would clear a 6 feet 8 inches wall in Dublin in 2013.
'Famous Equestrienne Dead', The Port Macquarie News and Hastings River Advocate, Saturday 27 July 1918, Page 4
'Death of Mrs E. M. Stace', The Scone Advocate, Friday 26 July 1918, Page 6
'Death of Mrs E. M. Stace', The Richmond River Express Examiner and Casino Kyogle Advertiser, Friday 26 July 1918, Page 4
'Fire at Yarrowitch', The Walcha Witness and Vernon County Record, Saturday 19 February 1898, Page 2
'Walcha history: Esther Stace the fearless horsewoman', https://www.walchanewsonline.com.au/story/5270137/side-saddle-legend/, accessed 20th June, 2020
'Video: Irish rider flies over 6'8" wall sidesaddle, breaking world record', https://www.horsenation.com/2013/10/29/video-irish-rider-flies-over-68-wall-sidesaddle/?fbclid=IwAR2PQqJH4M-4KfpqUlNl53XyC4NZ3WeCfDo7x-2enxMCeN-u-r_J6XsSVcE, accessed 20th June, 2020