Melissa is the Community Education and Careers Officer at Racing Victoria. We meet at a career’s expo for high school students in May of this year. Having recently taken over the role, I asked Melissa if she’d be kind enough to answer some questions about what she does with regards to horses. She agreed!
Have you always been interested in horses and when did you start out working with them?
I grew up on a dairy farm in country Victoria and I did always want a horse for myself but my dad thought they’d eat too much of the cows’ grass! So I ended up just riding friends and families horses on weekends and in holidays throughout my childhood.
My highlight was ‘borrowing’ my cousins horse for a couple of weeks one school holidays when I was a teenager. It was as close as I got to owning my own.
When packing up to relocate back to Melbourne from interstate for this job I came across ‘The book of Horses’ that I received in Grade 5. It was a very well loved book and naturally fell open on the Palomino page.
As far as the thoroughbred racing industry I’ve always been a race goer and have had friends and family working in and around the industry. Since working in the industry myself though, I now realise my knowledge and understanding was very shallow and limited compared to what I know now!
Outline your role with Racing Victoria?
I’m the Community Education and Careers Officer at Racing Victoria. With a lifelong, keen interest in the thoroughbred racing industry, I use my careers and education background to promote a love of horses and knowledge of the industry to primary school students and careers in racing to secondary students.
Racing Victoria’s Subzero Goes to School Program sees the 1992 Melbourne Cup winner Subzero visit schools throughout Victoria with a free incursion program that provides students with the unique experience to feel, smell and meet a champion thoroughbred.
The Careers in Racing Program provides secondary schools with the opportunity to hear from industry specialists such as trainers, jockeys and racing professionals.
These insightful, informative and free forums give young people an opportunity to hear from experts in the thoroughbred breeding and racing industry; one of Australia’s top 10 employers. I provide advice on varied career pathways to assist students achieving their aspirations of working in the equine industry.
I also have a post graduate degree, Careers Counseling with Elite Athletes, and have started working as part of Racing Victoria’s Apprentice Jockey Training program team ensuring our athletes come out of our program, not only as elite riders, but also well rounded individuals.
How much of your day/week is based around horses?
The role varies a lot with time in the office and out in the field. My work with horses is probably more peripheral though than working directly with them.
During the term I’m out and about visiting schools with Subzero, our community ambassador. I’m also out at the races on a regular basis, taking work experience students to show them around and meeting with various people in the industry to develop my own knowledge of the wide variety of roles and careers available.
In this field is it possible for someone to be a full time professional, earning a liveable income?
Yes definitely. Thoroughbred racing is one of the biggest employers in Victoria and Australia and is a major player in the global sports and entertainment industry.
There are full or part-time employment for almost 250,000 people, the equivalent of 77,000 jobs nationally. The excitement, the fashion, the legends and most importantly; the horses, make this one of the most diverse and exciting industries to be involved in.
Whether your passion is being hands on with horses, working outdoors, seeking a global career or being involved in the administration of racing; employment opportunities exist for those with the right commitment and willingness to learn.
What are the general steps taken to become a recognised artist?
There is such a variety of roles it is hard to be specific but generally the starting point is through being on the ground working with horses and getting to know the industry.
Many people start by getting their Certificate II Stablehand certificate and work with trainers and horses in the stable environment, whilst others get casual race day work. Personally, my role is quite specific and having both primary and secondary teaching experience as well as having a careers background has been a perfect fit for my position.
Any advice for those interested in pursuing this profession?
Building up your on the ground skills working with horses and in stables as well as knowledge of racing is a good starting point. As with any job, developing your network of people and employability skills will always help in pursing your career aspirations.
Is there anything else with horses you’d love to learn about or try?
My learning curve since starting in the role has been enormous but there is still so much that I’m getting to know.
I’m keen to get out to the International Quarantine Centre at Werribee to see first hand the logistics involved in having the international horses here for the Spring Carnival. I’ve also had an offer to spend a bit of time at a breeding facility during foaling season and will definitely be taking up that opportunity some time soon!
Favourite horse memory?
Definitely seeing Black Caviar run on Emirate Stakes Day in 2011 at Flemington. I couldn’t believe the hush that came over the crowd and the reverence that was shown.
It was like everyone knew they were about to see something very special and really wanted to soak up the moment. I felt very privileged to have witnessed some part of her racing history. I also love getting out to country mid week races and seeing all of the people on the ground making a race day happen.
From strappers and stable staff to race day staff, there are many dedicated and passionate people making this industry tick.
To continue to promote the breadth and depth of roles in the industry to young people and be a positive spokesperson for racing.
I’m also excited to be a part of Racing Victoria’s Apprentice Jockey program as they continue to develop our jockeys as elite, international sportspeople. In the future I’d love to be able to go overseas and see the way the industry operates in other parts of the world.
Best thing about your sport/profession?
Being a part of an exciting, international industry. Horses are incredibly unique animals, as are the people that work with them, and I have great admiration for the work they do.
There is incredible diversity in this industry and my introduction to it has been fantastic and very positive and I’m excited about the future.
“It is easier to attach reins to a freight train and practice pulling to a halt than it is to slow down some of our horses.”