The Garryowen Equestrienne Turnout

2024 marks the 90 years since the first Garryowen Equestrienne Turnout, a prestigious competition with a significant history.

The competition is named after three-time Melbourne Royal Show champion saddle horse Garryowen, whose owner Violet Murrell was regarded as one of the most fearless and capable lady riders in Australia.

Violet was born in 1904. Her father was a racehorse trainer, and she was already an experienced rider and handler by her teens. Throughout her life, Violet competed in hunts, shows, races, showjumping, steeplechase, point-to-points, and novelties. She was an advocate for women’s participation in equestrian sports at a time when they weren’t allowed to compete in city meetings, herself frequently winning against male jockeys around the country circuit, and raised money for animal welfare causes through the Purple Cross Society.

Violet Murrell and Garryowen, c. 1930s

Violet Murrell and Garryowen, c. 1930s

In 1929, Violet received Garryowen from a family friend who ran a horse-export business, William Jones. The two were a formidable pair, winning around 200 sashes and prizes in the early 1930s, including Champion Hack three times at the Royal Melbourne Show.

At around 2am on March 24, 1934, Violet was woken when a fire broke out in the stable behind her home in Mentone. Violet ran into the fire in a brave attempt to save Garryowen as well as Piquant the horse and Billy the dog who were all trapped inside.

Unfortunately, she collapsed from smoke inhalation before she could rescue them, and although her husband Bill was able to pull her from the blaze, she had suffered horrific burns and died the following night. Adding to the tragedy, Bill also died from his injuries several days later. Violet was just twenty-nine years old.


Violet Murrell riding Garryowen with competition ribbons, c. 1934.

Violet Murrell riding Garryowen with competition ribbons, c. 1934.

After the tragic fire, Violet's grieving friends sought to establish a fitting memorial to honour Violet's bravery. One of them, Mr H.C.F. Morant, sponsored a 'Garryowen Trophy Fund', and the public were invited to contribute through the Sporting Globe newspaper. This fund purchased the 30-centimetre statuette of a horse and the marble base that sits atop the Garryowen Perpetual Trophy. The inscription on the brass plate reads: Garryowen Trophy Best Equestrienne Turnout Royal Melbourne Show. 

To learn more about the group of friends who originally established the Garryowen Perpetual Trophy, click here.

The Garryowen Equestrienne Turnout was first held at the 1934 Melbourne Royal Show. Equestriennes aged 18 and over complete a turnout course on a horse that is over 14 hands. They are judged on a point system with one judge assigned to each of the following criteria:

  • Conformation and Soundness - 20 points
  • Manners and Pace - 40 points
  • Riding Ability - 50 points
  • General Appearance - 20 points
  • Saddlery - 20 points
  • Costume - 20 points
Images from the 1947 Garryowen competition.

Images from the 1947 Garryowen competition.

Between 1934 and 2023, leading up to the 90th anniversary of the competition, there have been 83 winners of the Garryowen Equestrienne Turnout. The competition did not run in 1942-45 due to the Second World War, in 2007 due to Equine Influenza, and in 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

You can read a full list of Garryowen winners here or learn more about some of their individual stories below.

Since 2009, the 75th anniversary of the Garryowen Equestrienne Turnout, the Garryowen Hall of Fame has recognised the achievements of riders, horses, and individuals who have displayed a commitment to the Garryowen competition through exceptional service. To learn more about these awards and see a full list of winners, follow the story link below.