Montana McStay: My life-changing HRV internship

12 January 2018 | Montana McStay
Montana McStay drives Mystic Castle to a trial win on her driving debut.

Montana McStay drives Mystic Castle to a trial win on her driving debut.

My Harness Racing Victoria internship has given me the opportunity to work with some of the best trainers and breeders in the state.

At the time of completing my Gippsland Harness Training Centre education I considered myself very lucky to have been given this opportunity and that has only been reinforced by the experience gained and doors that have opened. I’ve learned a lot and have benefitted from the efforts of a lot of people over that time.


I spent the first seven weeks at Chris and Glen Hunter’s stables in Trafalgar, where I learnt the process for breaking and training yearlings.

This was great timing for me because a lot of the yearlings that come into the stable I had seen go through the Australian Pacing Gold sales in Melbourne. I’ve always loved working with young horses and enjoyed seeing them progress from their first day of having gear put on to when they step foot on the track for the first time.

I was also driving track work and strapping horses because there was a handful that were up and racing. The mixture of those different responsibilities kept me busy and switched things up.

The time that I spent at this first stable really gave me the underpinning knowledge and self confidence that prepared me to successfully complete my other placements. The support that I had received in this time was really important to me.

Before moving away I spent a week in at Harness Racing Victoria’s office in Melbourne where I gained insight into licensing, finance, media and futurities.

I also attended a Friday night race meeting at Tabcorp Park Melton where I got the opportunity to sit in the stewards’ room with Nick Murray, Shane Larkins, Nathan Moy and Steve Coombes to witness what goes into making a race meeting run smoothly and penalties that might apply to drivers when they breach rules.

From there I went on to spend eight weeks at Kerryn Manning and Grant Campbell’s Great Western stable, Allbenz Park, where I worked with a larger number of horses than what I had been used to.

Under Kerryn and Grant I learnt to appreciate exceptionally high standards at all times as well as a lot about horse health and welfare. Although having to adjust to a different stable routine and an established team of people, I felt welcomed and was able to settle into the fast-paced routine quite easily.

I had the opportunity to drive fast work and attend a number of tracks that I hadn’t had the opportunity to visit before. The time I spent with Kerryn and Grant really opened my eyes to how a major operation works, I felt my time management skills and ability to think ahead were greatly improved.

I would like to thank the Stawell Harness Racing Club and Cody Sanderson for providing accommodation.

My next placement took place at Ross, Kerry and Kylie Sugars' stable at Hopetoun Park for eight weeks.

The moment I walked into their stables I instantly felt at home. They were very welcoming and family orientated, always encouraging each other and highlighting the importance of believing in yourself and never giving up. Being close to my own family but having to move away from home I really valued this.

I also had many opportunities to drive horses in track work at all levels of their training, which allowed me to build more experience and improve my skills, and I attended a few of the industry’s biggest events such as Redwood and Breeders Crown.

I have always looked up to the Sugars family as a young driver and to watch them drive at home and on the racetrack was very beneficial.

Whilst getting to work with the horses, I also was completing my Certificate IIV (Racehorse Trainer) through the Gippsland Harness Training Centre. If I had any questions or I needed something to be explained further, such as training methods, gear or farrier work, I felt comfortable knowing that it would be answered without hesitation.

Thank you to Rob Martin and Michelle Smith and Ballarat Harness Racing Club for my accommodation.

After a break, I was able to get my C Grade driver’s license and drive in three successful trials at Cranbourne and Warragul before I began my next journey at Empire Stallions with Donna Egan and David James in Avenel.

I had very limited knowledge when it came to the breeding area of the industry and had only ever handled a stallion a small amount of times before.

My time there involved early morning starts, when I assisted in the collection of stallions, worked in the laboratory and the preparation of semen for distribution to breeders. These careful operations really opened my eyes to how complex, specialised and detail-oriented this procedure really is.

Although this was something completely different to the routine I was use to – driving track work and strapping at race meetings – I found I settled in straight away. My self–confidence grew and I felt my role in the workplace was highly appreciated.

My nine-week stay felt much shorter and went by very quickly working with such lovely, caring, and humble people. This experience was very exciting and I felt very privileged to be a part of this year’s breeding season, interacting and caring for some of America’s most valued horses.

Thank you to Bill and Anne Anderson at Lauriston Bloodstock for having me stay on their property.

After a Christmas break, and before heading to my final placement at Alabar stud in Echuca, I came back to Harness Racing Victoria’s office and spent a Monday race meeting at Tabcorp Park Melton with race day coordinator Troy Anderson to see what procedures were put in place before, during and after the race meeting.

On the Tuesday I sat in with stewards Kylie Harrison, Cody Baker and Shane Larkins, seeing operations in the stewards' tower and what to look for during the race, as well as behind the mobile with Graeme Morgan, with the race day caller Lachlan McIntosh and swabbing of a horse post-race.

Mid-week I was able to get more of an insight into the media and marketing role, including the sport's promotion and the organising of big events.

The Harness Racing Victoria internship has been such a life-changing experience. I got an opportunity not many people would to travel and work for some of the best trainers and breeders in the state. Through them it has brought up so many new and exciting opportunities I only could have dreamt of doing. I now have a number of career pathways to choose from within the industry.

I am also indebted to the magnificent horses at each stable that I have worked with and that have taken care of me. Along the way I have made so many new friends that I will have for a lifetime.

Thank you to all connections that have helped me in more ways than one to complete my internship.