It has been described as “a dream” and as one of those moments when “everyone remembers where they were”. This was the moment jockey Michelle Payne became the first woman to win the Melbourne Cup in 2015.
But, Payne made headlines for more than just the historic win. In a trackside interview, she described the racing industry as “chauvinistic”, and told her critics to “get stuffed” because “they think women aren’t strong enough”.
“But, we just beat the world,” she roared.
In its 156 year history, up to 2017, only six women have run in the race that stops the nation. Payne’s win was huge — a potential real turning point for the racing industry and an inspiration to those looking to follow in her footsteps.
Jacqui North is a young stable hand making her way in the still male-dominated industry.
“I just really love working with the horses. They’ve always made me happy.”
“I’m pretty sure I cried the first time I got on a horse, I was so excited. I’d be asking my parents for a lesson, it finally came about and I just cried.”
While completing her Certificate III in Racing (Advanced Stablehand) at Melbourne Polytechnic, Jacqui started her first job as a stablehand.
She says while studying and working on the side: “There wasn’t a day where [she] didn’t learn something.”
“The course was the first one I found, and it was the best choice I have made, to go to Northern Lodge.”
Now, having completed the course, Jacqui is working for Melbourne Cup-winning trainer, Mark Kavanagh, as a stablehand.
“I really enjoy where I’m working because the horses are so good, they are really calm and everything. I love taking horses to the races because it’s a whole new experience for me.”
She says, all women in the racing industry have been an inspiration to her, but, she finds it difficult to single too many out.
“Debbie Jones, my teacher [at Melbourne Polytechnic], has shown and taught me a lot, but all the women in racing are pretty inspiring to watch, like Michelle Payne.”
“It's more of a male-dominated industry, but there are lots of women in the industry who are inspiring.”
“It’s quite tough being a woman in racing, you have to fight, in a way, for everything. You have to really prove yourself early to make yourself really known. I mean, if a female wants to be a jockey, it's a lot harder.”
“You have to have the will to win, the determination.”
She says, the industry often sees male jockeys as stronger and more dominant even though there’s evidence female jockeys are just as good as the men.
“I see women being gentle and patient with the horse - there’s not really a specific way to handle the horse, you just have to make it happy.”
When it comes to her own career, she’s still unsure about following in Michelle Payne’s footsteps: “I don’t feel riding is 100% for me, as yet, but I do want to keep going with it.”
“I do just really like being a stablehand for the moment… I just wanted to be in the industry and I’m just going where it takes me.”
“I love where I work and now I’m working for the best trainer I’ve ever worked for. I’ve been here for six months now, and I’ve learned more than I ever thought I’d learn in that short amount of time.
Now, more than ever, women are making their mark in racing. Perhaps it's time for you to join them?
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