Okay, if you’re stuck in your house and desperately looking for a riding fix, dial-up Ride Like a Girl on Netflix, sit back and enjoy the ride. There are no spoilers here. You know right from the beginning that Michelle Payne becomes the first female jockey to win Australia’s Melbourne Cup in 2015. After all, the movie is that a true story and Payne is a national hero in her native Australia.
Born into a racing family, Payne was the youngest of 10 children. Her mother died in an automobile accident when Michelle was just six months old, and she was raised by her race-horse trainer father, Paddy Payne. Racing was truly in her blood; seven out of her 10 siblings trained as jockeys.
When she was just seven, Michelle told her friends her dream was to win the Melbourne Cup. The path to get there was full of hurdles. It’s her perseverance that makes Payne’s story so inspiring. She overcame the rampant sexism in the racing industry, the death of her older sister after a fall when racing, and her own catastrophic accident, where she had a traumatic brain injury that required seven months of rehab. The movie glosses over some of her other injuries, which included fractured vertebrae from falls in 2012, and instead focuses on her fierce determination to succeed.
When Payne connects with Prince of Penzance (there’s a beach ride scene that will have every equestrian salivating), the classic story of the horse finding the right rider is set up. There’s is a partnership forged through determination, hope and good luck. Both horse and rider overcame multiple injuries to reach the pinnacle of success. Michelle rode him in all his races except one leading up to the Cup and also rode him in his gallops.
Payne’s victory in the Melbourne Cup was a surprise to almost everyone — except her family. Even the owners of the horse she rode, Prince of Penzance, only hoped he’d finish in the top 10. While the horse ran at odds of 100-1, the odds on Michelle becoming the first female jockey to win the 155-year old race were much higher. Footage from the actual race is cut into the movie, but here’s the whole thing below.
One of the most touching aspects of Ride Like a Girl is the role of her older brother, Stevie, who plays himself. Born with Downs Syndrome, Stevie and Michelle were always incredibly close. He becomes a “strapper”, someone who takes care of horses on the racetrack, for Darren Weir, who trained Prince of Penzance, and was by Michelle’s side for her win. Stevie actually steals the show a bit– he’s funny and charming; a real natural on camera.
Michelle and Stevie now live next door to each other and work at the training stable that Michelle established. She had another severe fall in 2016, where she tore her pancreas and has since moved on to training. Sadly, her partnership with Prince of Penzance ended after Payne had a falling out with Weir. The gelding retired in 2017.
Right when the movie came out, Darren Weir was banned for racing for four years after investigators found electric “buzzers” at his stable. As one of the top racing trainers in Australia, the scandal rocked the racing industry. In the movie, Weir is portrayed as someone willing to take a chance, both on Stevie (giving him his first job) and on Michelle, standing up for her when the horse’s owners wanted to take her off Prince of Penzance for the Melbourne Cup.
You don’t have to be a horseperson to love a story that shows someone chasing their dream — and succeeding –but it doesn’t hurt. Actor-turned-first-time director Rachel Griffiths said she set out “to make a PG feminist sports film that would make men cry.” With Ride Like a Girl she most definitely achieves that.
Here’s a nice interview below with Michelle and Stevie right after her Melbourne Cup win.