ROSS WILLIAMSON: 1939 – 2022

ROSS WILLIAMSON: 1939 – 2022

Vet Surgeon to the Saudi Royal Family’s racehorses

By Robyn Williamson

May 9, 2022 — 3.50pm

Acknowledge: Obituary: Ross Williamson, veterinary surgeon to Saudi prince’s thoroughbreds (

Featured Image: Ross Williamson in Mudgee 2021

Having only just farewelled one equine veterinary legend (Dr Patricia Ellis) yet another followed very rapidly. This is a tribute to my late colleague Ross Williamson who similarly pursued a very peripatetic and fascinating professional lifestyle! I duly acknowledge faithful spouse Robyn who I met at Randwick Races all those years ago when both Ross & Robyn were on ‘furlough’ from the Middle East.

A self-described “country boy” and natural horseman who went on to develop an international reputation as an equine vet specialist, Ross Williamson was a man who, once met, left a lasting impression.

At times direct in his manner, his no-nonsense practical approach was balanced by a natural charisma and a seemingly unending store of anecdotes from a life lived to the fullest.

Ross James Logan Williamson was born on August 21, 1939 in Parkes, the second child and eldest son of James Arthur (Jim) and Martha Victoria (Queenie) Williamson. Ross grew up at Aurora Park, a Central Western NSW property running mixed livestock.

He boarded at Scots College, Bathurst from the age of seven, then returned briefly to Aurora Park, before moving to Sydney where he enrolled in night school, working during the day to obtain the grades he needed to study veterinary science at the University of Sydney.

During his four years at the University’s St Andrews College, Ross combined dedication to his academic studies with sporting prowess, representing the college in rugby, cricket and athletics, as well as the university at grade level rugby. He graduated with a BVSc in 1964.

After graduation, Ross worked for the Pastures Protection (PP) Board in Coonabarabran, before going on to establish an extensive private practice there covering a wide area of north-western NSW. It was while at Coonabarabran that he was introduced to Robyn, nee Perry, his wife of 55 years, whom he married in April 1966. Three children followed before the family moved to Oberon in 1973, where Ross took up the first of his dedicated horse-only roles managing a private American-owned thoroughbred stud farm.

When an opportunity arose in late 1975, Ross took up a posting as equine vet to the Shah of Iran’s imperial stables in Tehran. His formal duties in Iran included pivotal contributions at the Tehran Racing Company, which developed a US$50 million turnkey thoroughbred and Turkoman horse racecourse and training facility funded by Hong Kong/Macau investment, which opened in 1978.

Ross was responsible for implementation of revolutionary new track geometry parameters, designed to reduce horse injury, with super-elevated bends that facilitated incorporation of the course within the tight confines of a scenic but steep sided “desert” mountain amphitheatre.

The posting in Iran was cut short by the Iranian Revolution in late 1978, with Ross on the final RAAF evacuation flight out of the country, having earlier had to take refuge in the racecourse stables when revolutionary mobs ran riot in the streets and threatened the security of the new facilities at the racecourse.

Robyn and the children had earlier departed for safety to the UK for the children’s enrolment in boarding school to continue their education. Ross later returned to Iran due to his concern for the welfare of the horses left at the racecourse facilities and he was appointed director of the Tehran Racing Company, where he oversaw a final season’s racing before the Islamic Republic shuttered proceedings in 1979. Ross departed Tehran in August of that year.

A position working for a number of royal family princes in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia followed. Ross was possibly the first Western veterinary surgeon to be employed in the Saudi capital to care for the large sized breeding and racing horse operations in Riyadh. His surgery was the desert or sand floored stables, lighting for urgent night surgeries sometimes relying upon vehicle headlamps. Scrubbing down, anaesthetics and operations were all performed successfully without assistants.

Due to the intense heat, summers were mostly spent in England, where the royal princes migrated and had horses with English trainers mainly in Sussex and Newmarket, with Ross attending to morning track work and also advising on bloodstock purchases during the annual autumn horse sales in England and Ireland.

After 10 years advising the princes in Saudi Arabia, Ross was offered a position by the Qatar Equestrian Federation to advise on their equine veterinary operations covering racing, (Thoroughbred and Arab horses) show jumping and showing Arab horses.

Qatar was the first country in the Middle East to introduce endurance races, holding marathon races over 42 kilometres under the strict veterinary supervision of a group of Australian and English vets brought in by Ross to ensure there were no fatalities, equine or human. To promote the events and encourage international visitors each year, a number of celebrities were invited. At the first event in 1996 riders included the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, Patrick Swayze, Catherine Kelly-Lang (star of the TV series the Bold and the Beautiful who finished in third place) and Bo Derek.

Endurance racing then became popular and the Qatar team, with an Italian trainer, went on to compete in Italy, France, the UK, Ireland and in 1996 the FEI World Championship Endurance International in Kansas, USA.

In addition to monitoring the wellbeing of the endurance horses, Ross undertook work for Sheikh Abdulla, a member of the Qatari Al-Thani royal family’s Arab horse race operation, which during each summer was based in Chantilly, France, competing in France, UK and Delaware in the USA with outstanding success. Summers were spent by Ross travelling with the competing endurance and Arab racehorses.

At the end of 1999 Ross was contracted by the Jockey Club of Turkey for the development of veterinary services, horse training, racing and breeding facilities throughout that country and Ross and Robyn enjoyed living in Istanbul for a number of years with their house overlooking the Bosphorus.

From 2010 to 2017 Ross was veterinary consultant to the Qatar Armed Forces with full veterinary and nutritional services for a team of 80 plus show-jumping and ceremonial horses.

During his wide career Ross had the opportunity to travel globally on behalf of his various employers to examine potential bloodstock purchases or to inspect equine facilities. Such visits took him (among other places) to Russia, Germany, the former Yugoslavia, India, Syria, the USA, Argentina, Uzbekistan and Taiwan. In 2017 he visited Uzbekistan advising on the ambitious dream of reclaiming the Akhal Teke-Turkoman Horse genome and rewriting the history from a Central Asian perspective.

Ross and Robyn acquired a house in West Sussex (England), which was the family base for many years. While continuing to work in the Middle East, Ross and Robyn relocated to Australia in 2009, setting up home in Mudgee. Ross finally “retired” back to Australia in 2015, although continued with his consultancy work.

Ross passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by his family, on April 8, 2022 after a short illness.

He is survived by Robyn, sisters Durrell and Margie, brother Ian, sons Angus and James, daughter Anthea and his only grandson, aged 11.

There will be a memorial to celebrate his life at a later date.

Robyn Williamson