Michelle Payne  (1985 – )

William Shakespeare wrote In a Midsummer Night’s Dream, “ Though she be but little she is fierce”. He could have been writing about Michelle Payne.

The youngest of 10 children, Michelle followed in the footsteps of seven of her siblings by becoming a jockey, a male dominated industry.

Growing up on a farm in Central Victoria, Michelle is the youngest daughter of the ten children of Paddy and Mary Payne. Tragically, Michelle’s mother Mary died in a motor vehicle accident when Michelle was only six months old, leaving Paddy to raise the children as a single father. A career in the saddle always beckoned for Michelle and she rode in her first competitive race at the age of 15 on a horse trained by her father.

Michelle suffered several major injuries in her racing career though these never impeded her desire to ride. As a young girl cleaning out her father’s stables her dream was to win the Melbourne Cup.

In November 2015, Payne was the first woman to ride the winner of the Melbourne Cup in its 155 year history when she steered 100-1 shot Prince Of Penzance to victory ( coincidentally wearing the colours of the suffragette movement: purple, green and white.)

The training strategy used in the lead-up to the race included a consistent horse-jockey relationship. Payne said, “It’s not all about strength, there is so much more involved, getting the horse to try for you, it’s being patient.”

In her speech after her Cup win Payne famously said that “ ……… they think women aren’t strong enough but we just beat the world”. She later said that she hoped her win “helps female jockeys”.

She took out her training license in 2016 and has trained over 30 winners, has ridden 770 career winners and continues to work alongside her brother Stevie.

In October 2016, she was awarded the Don Award at the Sport Australia Hall of Fame awards. The Don Award is “awarded to a sportsperson who, ……, is considered to have most inspired the nation”.

In May 2017, Payne received international recognition when awarded the Longine Ladies Award in America. The award paid tribute to “distinguished women whose careers have shown a positive influence and exceptional commitment to the equine cause”.

In 2021 Payne was awarded the  Medal of the Order of Australia in the 2021 Australia Day Honours.

The movie, Ride Like A Girl released in 2019, portrays the realisation of Michelle’s dream. ( Note : the film was ripped by critics but had audiences cheering and clapping in their seats.)

Celebrating the women from our past to the present who have helped shape Australia.

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