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Lifetime passion for horses results in Mary Martin Award

24 Aug 2016

When it comes to passion, not much inspires it like horses. Whether the passion is for racing, riding or simply appreciating, very few animals have enjoyed such a long-lasting relationship with humans. Women in particular seem to have a special connection with horses.

It may start by being born into a ‘horsey’ family, or it might grow spontaneously from a young age. Horse toys, movies, books…then riding lessons, the inevitable pleas for a pony, a horse of her own…If this sounds familiar, then either you are a horse person, or you are raising one of these passionate individuals.

Stephanie D’Elbee Bolger was one of those horse-mad little girls, and she is now one of our high achievers in the Melbourne Polytechnic Bachelor of Equine Studies.

In August, Stephanie, a second year student in the degree program, was the proud recipient of the Mary Martin Scholarship, awarded by the Victorian Wakeful Club, a $1500 grant awarded to a female student who excels within her chosen study fields and shows a commitment to her studies.

The Victorian Wakeful Club is an organisation formed by twenty-five like-minded women in 2001 to foster networking and participation of women in the thoroughbred racing industry.

The club is named after Wakeful, the champion Australian mare who won twenty-five races from 44 starts, and placed in all but three races. Her range was incredible, racing from 1,100 to 3,200 metres, and in her last start she placed second in the Melbourne Cup.

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The Mary Martin Award is named in honour of Mary Martin, the inaugural Treasurer of the Victorian Wakeful Club who lost her life in the Black Saturday fires in 2009. Mrs Martin was a resident of the northern suburbs of Melbourne and owned the Pine Ridge Stud in Whittlesea, which influenced the club’s decision to award the scholarship to a Melbourne Polytechnic (formerly Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE) student of equine studies.

“We really want to encourage women to stay in the industry, particularly by encouraging girls to get into the industry through education,” says Jenny Moodie, President of the Victorian Wakeful Club.

Stephanie D’Elbee Bolger certainly sounds like she has a long and productive career ahead of her in the equine industry. Her passion is researching training methods which are more effective and cause less harm to horses than the current Australian techniques which, she feels, are outdated compared to what is happening elsewhere on the globe.

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Photo, left to right: Victorian Wakeful Club Secretary Fay Stokes, Stephanie D'Elbee Bolger, and Victorian Wakeful Club President Jenny Moodie.

“I want to develop a bridle and bit that actually work and don’t harm the horse,” she says animatedly. “And I really feel we have a lot to learn from what is being done overseas, where they are way ahead in terms of the equipment and methods they use.”

“In Australia our training styles have evolved from the styles used by stockmen, whereas in France, for example, they use classical and equestrian styles even for training racehorses.”

Stephanie’s scholarship money will be put towards taking extra hands-on clinics to complement her studies.

“I have struggled to afford to do them, but I get so much out of them,” she says. “I’ve done the Join the Dots clinic and also a dissection workshop at the end of last semester with Sharon May Davis, ‘the Bone Lady’.

She previously studied photography but fortunately decided to change course to pursue her true passion. Strongly influenced by French training methods, Stephanie trains her own horse for dressage, combining classical dressage methods with body balance and biomechanical theory to better understand the effect of the rider on the horse. 

Melissa Jackson, Melbourne Polytechnic Lecturer in Equine Studies, notes that Stephanie was selected for the award due to her outstanding dedication to her studies.

“She’s always present, always engaged, and continues to excel. She’s passionate and energetic,” says Melissa. “It’s tough balancing financial demands with study and it’s great to have industry supporters like the Victorian Wakeful Club to help support these students.”

The Victorian Wakeful Club’s quiet contributions to the participation of women in industry are gaining notice, with more than 350 people attending their annual Lady of Racing Award celebration this year. The Lady of Racing Award acknowledges the achievements of women working in the industry across all professions; jockeys and trackriders, as well as vets, trainers, and breeders. Michelle Payne, 2015 Melbourne Cup winning jockey, took out the award in 2011.

DID YOU KNOW… It’s a tradition that horse owners try to select horse names that have 7 letters in them for good luck. In fact, Phar Lap used to be Far Lap.

Main photo: © Anne Gagliardi | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Melbourne Polytechnic operates across six campuses and five specialist training centres throughout Melbourne. The institute delivers high quality vocational and higher education in industry-standard facilities.