Michelle Allen is an ex-jockey who rode for 12 years and now a trainer based out of Australia. I emailed her over some questions about being a trainer as well as her days as a rider and here is what she said:
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
MA: I was born in Frankston, Victoria. Australia. I grew up in Tyabb for a few years and the family moved to Mornington, Victoria when I was 4.
FOTH: Did you come from a big or small family?
MA: I came from a small family, mum, dad & two younger brothers. I am the eldest of three children.
FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up and did any sports interest you at all?
MA: I was a bit of a tomboy I guess and didn't have many friends as I spent most of my time with the horses. I loved all sports and did swimming, running, hockey & karate mainly besides the horses.
FOTH: At what age did you see your first horse race and what did you think of it?
MA: Not sure what age I was when I saw my first race but my parents have a photo of me on the couch holding the whip up in my hand and photos of me on the racehorses with dad when I was two onwards.
FOTH: When did you get the idea that maybe you might want to be a jockey? Did you work at any racetracks before you began riding?
MA: I rode when I was young at horse shows and pony club. I did dressage, showjumping and cross country. I also played polo cross for a while. My grandfather was a racing man and president of a race club and my father was a racehorse trainer so we always went to the races as kids to watch dad's horse’s race. Dad was very old fashioned and always told me that girls don’t ride racehorses. I loved the races but it wasn't until I finished high school and started university that I thought well I’m old enough to do what I want now and I wanted to be a jockey.
FOTH: Is there many racetracks around where you live?
MA: I live at the back of the Mornington Racecourse where I grew up and there are heaps of race tracks not far from here.
FOTH: When you really thought about becoming a jockey who helped teach you how to ride and stuff and how natural was it for you getting up on horses?
MA: I was lucky I grew up with horses and had been around horses and riding all my life so the first part was easy getting on. There is a big difference riding a racehorse though and it took a little bit of time to learn how to hold the pullers and ride with shorter stirrups. I was self-taught mainly as Dad didn't want me to ride. I moved interstate and started working with Clarry Conners who helped teach me.
FOTH: Looking back was becoming a jockey easier or harder than you thought it was going to be?
MA: Becoming a jockey was easier than I thought it would be as I had to do it without my father's help. I was lucky I had a head start as I had already ridden horses since I was a kid. Some jockeys have never sat on a horse until they start their apprenticeship.
FOTH: How long did you ride for and what led to you retiring?
MA: I rode for 12 years as a jockey in races all over Australia. I rode in every state except for Western Australia. I had two bad race falls in my career; I broke a total of 24 bones including my neck, back, pelvis, sacrum, shoulder, arms, collarbones, wrists, feet, ankles, nose etc. I had to learn to walk again and later on I battled with my weight and arthritis from my injuries which led to my retirement.
FOTH: Are there many female riding out where you are based out of?
MA: No there was only around 10-12 females riding in the areas I was based in most of the time and maybe 1 or 2 interstate.
FOTH: I saw you have a website. What is the url of it and what will people find when they long onto it?
MA: People will find some background knowledge about me, pictures and shares in racehorses for sale that I train. I'm a retired jockey who now trains racehorses – it’s the next best thing to being a jockey!
FOTH: What advice would you give a young girl if she wanted to become a jockey?
MA: Go for it! You go girl! Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it and achieve what you want to. Surround yourself with the right people who are positive and who will always support you! That will be your greatest asset long term. Make sure you are always willing to learn. Form is temporary and class is permanent!!!
FOTH: I am sure you have seen some races here in the US. What is your opinion of them?
MA: The racing in the US looks amazing and I would love to come and experience it firsthand one day. It is very different to Australia especially with some of the rules so it’s a different kind of playing field.
FOTH: When you were riding did you think you had a certain riding style?
MA: Yes I think everyone has their own riding style. You might model yourself on your favorite jockey who you like and then slightly adapt and evolve your own style from this that works best for you.
FOTH: You also made went from being a jockey to a trainer. How difficult was that and how many horse’s do you have in training now?
MA: Going from a jockey to a trainer was extremely difficult and I'm only just starting to build up my stable. You always get paid as a jockey even if your horse doesn't perform the best. As a trainer when this happens you don't always get paid. Or they might send the horse to another trainer. Sometimes they might criticize the trainer for the horse's poor performance. At the end of the day if the horse doesn't have enough ability all you can do is your best to place it where it can be competitive or move it on.
FOTH: Being an ex-jockey, can you tell when a jockey gives a horse a bad ride?
MA: Yes of course, especially when you know your horse and the form around the race. However when the horse pulls up there may be a reason for the so called 'bad' ride, there could be something wrong with the horse? We all give bad rides at some time in our life - no one is perfect. It's when a jockey is dishonest or doesn't realize they gave the horse a bad ride that makes me mad!
FOTH: Take me through a typical day for you.
MA: Typical day for me means the alarm goes off at 3am and I'm out in the stables by about 3:15am. Mucking out the boxes and making sure the horses are all ok and have eaten up. Saddling up the first horse and riding it to the track to work it and returning home to give them a roll and a hose before they go to their paddock for the day and are fed. Repeat this process until I finish all the horses. I ride all my own track work and sometimes get another rider to work my horses with me in pairs when needed. Give any treatments that may be required. Talk with the vet and or farriers about the horses and what needs doing. Make the feeds ready for the afternoon.
Breakfast 9am and read the paper. 10am into the office and reply to emails, nominate horses for races, accept, do the form, organize horse movements/transport etc. Call owners with updates on horse progress and email photos and videos. Order feed or vet products needed.
Afternoon starts at 2:30pm and the horses are walked and dressed. Hooves picked out and any treatments given or bandages applied. Fed, watered and hay in the stable ready for the horses. Paddocks are picked up and water buckets cleaned. Feeds made up for the morning and any race gear needed packed for the following day.
Finish around 5:30pm and return to the office to complete the track work sheets for the following day for the horses.
After tea 7pm in the office reply to emails and phone calls to owners to answer questions or discuss/inform what is happening with their horses.
8:30pm bed/rest time
FOTH: How many tracks have your horses rode at so far and what is the feeling like when one wins a race? Which is better winning a race as a jockey or trainer or both are great?
MA: I rode 265 winners as a jockey and I loved every minute of it. I can't wait to train lots of winners as a trainer. So far I have only had 9 runners (4 horses) for 2 places. It's hard to compare but as a trainer you have a lot more to do with the horses' preparation so I believe training winners will be just as thrilling as riding them!
FOTH: How long do you think you will be a trainer for any is there any shot you will ride again or is that part of your life over?
MA: I would love to ride again and I have thought of this often. Especially at the moment I have a young 3 year old filly who has shown exceptional ability and the thought has crossed my mind.....I could make a comeback and ride the horse in races and just have it trained in someone else's name! At the end of the day I would love to be a jockey forever but my injuries and body have had their day at the races and I'm looking forward to the next part of my life.
FOTH: Would you ever want to come to the US to trainer horses
MA: I would love to come to the US to train horses, it’s very competitive but I would love the challenge!
FOTH: Michelle thumbs up for the interview any last words the floor is yours?
MA: Thank you for the opportunity with completing the interview it's been great fun. If anyone is interested in shares in my horses or giving me a horse to train I would be happy to hear from you. I'm passionate about my horses and I aim to make every post a winner!
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