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Ride Like A Girl follows the journey of Michelle Payne (Teresa Palmer,) the youngest of 10 siblings with big dreams to be the first woman to win the Melbourne Cup. It highlights the difficulties female jockeys face in a still very male dominated sport while also opening the door to the stress all jockeys put on their bodies trying to keep their weight down and stay in the trainers good books.
Being a racing fan this film appeared on my radar earlier this year and it went straight on my “to-watch” list waiting for it to be released. So when I was sent a press release for the film with an opportunity to watch it before the official release I couldn’t say no!
The film wasn’t entirely what I expected, largely because I knew nothing about Michelle or her family. I expected a racing heavy film, but instead what I found was a family who lived and breathed racing and the hardships they faced along the way. You have Paddy Payne, played by Sam Neil, a veteran horse trainer, widowed with 10 children to raise on his own. The second youngest, Stevie had Downs Syndrome (he also plays himself in the film) and 8 of the other 9 siblings all had careers as a jockey.
Everyone who owns or works with horses knows that there are incredible highs and depressing lows and this film captures this perfectly. It shows the strength the horse gives us to deal with the hard times and really champions the mental health benefits of being around horses. But it also deals with the bad times. Horse riding is dangerous. Horse racing is a whole new level. There is injury, competition, sexism and the desire to make money.
“You’ll work twice as hard for half the rides.” Is one piece of advice Michelle receives from one of her old sisters, who is also a jockey. This message is shown throughout the film and Michelle desperately works towards getting her big break. While her sisters completely understand, regular heart to hearts with her brothers really highlight the difference in opportunities for male and female jockeys. As a female rider, I found several of the early scenes with trainers incredibly frustrating as you watched this good rider struggle to get the break she needed due to her gender.
But Michelle’s story doesn’t just highlight the sexist discrimination. The sense of weight appeared throughout the film. From one of the brothers not being allowed roast potatoes with his Christmas dinner as he was riding the next day, to some really quite distressing scenes of the desperate actions jockeys take to make the weights last minute.
Racing scenes are always difficult to reproduce for entertainment. But the scenes in Ride Like A Girl worked really well and I loved the added touch of the shouting between jockeys. If you watch races away from the stands where the hustle and bustle drowns most of the noise out apart from the thundering of hooves, you will hear the jockeys shouting at each other. Sometimes it’s trying to get space or trying to stop an accident. But other times it’s also mind games, borderline bullying. All of this features throughout the film.
What also struck me is how recent these events are. Most racing films feature classic horses everyone knows but happened in the 70s or earlier. Michelle’s Melbourne Cup win happened in just 2015. The race even featured horses I have seen relatively recently such as Big Orange and Trip To Paris. This really made me realise just how current the film is. While there are differences between UK and Australian racing, many of the issues highlighted in this film are also issues here. It has only really been very recently that female jockeys have become more respected in the UK. But the odds still suggest a level of discrimination.
As I have already said, the film wasn’t what I expected. It was better. I really enjoyed it and found it so moving and real. It didn’t glorify the racing industry, it really highlighted some of the dark sides of the industry. But also showed how much passion there is in the industry and how it can make dreams come true. It’s emotional and challenging and simply fantastic.
Ride Like A Girl is now available on DVD and Digital Download/Rent. A must watch for all horse lovers.