While we think having an award called the “Ladies” award is somewhat dated, especially in a sport where men and women compete against each other on equal footing, we were impressed to see these four exceptional women receive recognition, and in particular, Michelle Payne.
Michelle was joined by Reed Kessler, Georgina Bloomberg, and Belinda Stronach and recognised during the Longines Ladies’ Awards at a gala dinner on the eve of the 142nd running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
Now in its fifth year, the award pays tribute to women whose careers have shown a positive influence and exceptional commitment to the equine cause and the recipients are selected by Louis Romanet, Chairman of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA); Ingmar de Vos, President of the FEI; and Nathalie Bélinguier, former President of the International Federation of Gentleman and Lady Riders (FEGENTRI).
About the 2017 Winners
Australian jockey Michelle Payne inspired a nation and women all over the world when she won the Group 1 Emirates Melbourne Cup in 2015: the first woman to do so in the Cup’s 155-year history. She was riding 100-1 shot Prince Of Penzance. “Women can do anything, and we can beat the world,” she said at the time.
The youngest daughter of Paddy (originally from New Zealand) and Mary Payne, Michelle grew up on a farm near Ballarat in central Victoria. Her mother died in a car accident when Michelle was six months old, leaving Paddy to raise their ten children as a single father. Michelle dreamed of being a winning jockey as a child, and, aged seven, told friends she would one day win the Melbourne Cup.
She began race riding at 15, and nine years later, given the ride by legendary trainer Bart Cummings, won the David Jones Toorak Handicap at Caulfield aboard Allez Wonder; the first of her many Group 1 successes.
Having gained national fame after her Melbourne Cup victory, Michelle took the opportunity to raise awareness of the difficulties encountered by women in a sport dominated by men. Her own career hasn’t been without set-backs, as she has suffered serious race falls and injuries, including brain trauma, broken vertebrae and damaged organs. She has overcome it all, making a successful return to the saddle in 2016, this time holding a dual trainer-jockey licence and becoming the first to train and ride a winner in Australia. As part of a big year, she assumed the role of Patron of the National Jockeys’ Trust to help fallen and injured jockeys, and accepted the greatest sporting accolade in Australia, the Don Award, in recognition of her achievements.
At only 18 years old, in her first year of eligibility in the senior jumping ranks, American prodigy Reed Kessler clinched the 2012 USEF National Jumping title. A few months later, she headed to London as the youngest equestrian athlete to compete at the Olympic Games. In early 2013, she achieved top results at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington (USA) and contributed to Team USA’s victory. She also competed at the FEI World Cup Jumping Final in Sweden, and represented the USA in the Nations Cup. Ambitious and talented, Reed gives the following advice: “When you get consistent at something and you’re doing it well and it’s easy for you, it’s time to do something harder.” The hard-working show jumper continues to build her career and has given back to the equestrian community by sharing her own experience in the US Equestrian’s Learning Center project, which provides educational content for fans and athletes. She is also an ambassador for JustWorld International, a charity supporting education and healthcare in developing countries.
American rider Georgina Bloomberg is youngest daughter of former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, and is someone who uses her fame to help others. She made her own way in the horse world as a professional Grand Prix show jumper, author and philanthropist. While winning numerous prizes, including gold medals at the North American Young Rider Championships, the Maxine Beard Award and several World Equestrian Festival Challenge Cups, she also got involved as a humane activist, helping young riders, horse rescue organisations and therapeutic riding facilities. Georgina works with the Humane Society of the United States, and recently joined the board of Animal Aid of the United States. She served as a board member of the Equestrian Aid Foundation, which provides support to riders, trainers, grooms, farriers and other professionals for medical expenses.
In 2006, she founded her own charity, “The Rider’s Closet”, with the purpose of making riding clothes more accessible to those attending therapeutic riding schools. She has also written a series of four books inspired by riding.
The fourth Longines Ladies Award was presented to Canadian businesswoman, former cabinet minister and philanthropist, The Honourable Belinda Stronach, P.C., who is also known in the horse racing industry as the co-founder, chairman and president of The Stronach Group, an industry leader in world-class horse racing and entertainment. Her ambition is to modernise thoroughbred racing and engage a new generation of fans through technology and social media, with innovative events such as the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational, the world’s richest horse race. She has been recognised as one of the world’s most powerful women by the World Economic Forum, Fortune Magazine and TIME Magazine, to name a few. She is committed to social change and founded The Belinda Stronach Foundation to develop programmes to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges, including malaria, education and the empowerment of girls and women. Belinda’s life achievements have been honoured and recognized many times, but she herself says, “I was once called a disrupter. I think that’s one of the best compliments I have ever received.”