THANKS to pioneers such as Pearl Kelly, Dorrie Simons, Pam Wilson and Diane Davies to name a few, harness racing has long been a leader of equality.
With the industry’s females performing on equal footing to their male counterparts on a daily basis, it’s difficult to image there was a time when those named above campaigned for the women to compete against men!
Was it simply a ‘boys club’ philosophy or the belief women didn’t have the skill and grit required to match the blokes is something we’ll never truly know.
As it stood reinswomen were restricted to ‘exhibition’ races against each other, with the events even considered somewhat of a sideshow.
But that changed during the 1970s when rules allowed women to contest all races, with the likes of Gaita Pullicino, Margaret Davies, Anne Tracey, Margaret Frost, Betty Lewis and Debra Turner soon proving their worth.
Feats such as Anne Tracey being first to drive at a TAB meeting, Margaret Davies being the first to drive as a ‘fully licensed’ reinswoman are all but forgotten, but should always be remembered.
An important piece of history is one very little would know…Debra Moss was the first woman to beat the blokes in Australia, which she achieved with Darwin Boy in Hawkesbury on December 22, 1977.
“It was the most nerve wracking experience of my life,” Moss said. “It was my first drive in a race and I had TV cameras and newspapers interviewing me before the race.
“I told my parents not to tell me the odds because if I got beaten they would throw tin cans at me, then the owner runs up while I was in the parade ring and told me he is 6/4 and they are backing him like he can’t get beaten, which didn’t help.
“I remember the men argued women won’t be strong enough, they won’t be able to drive out the finish, punters won’t bet on them and so on.
“In Queensland they had a terrible time, men full out refused to drive against them and it took them longer to get permission than the rest of the country.”
Fast forward to 2021 and women are not only premiership winners and record holders as trainers and drivers, they are an integral part of all facets of industry.
In Queensland for example, Margaret Reynolds is one of the state’s most experienced and respected administrators.
Beginning her involvement as a breeder and owner almost six decades ago, Reynolds is a Racing Queensland Board member and an executive of Harness Racing Australia.
Reynolds’ various roles and achievements are too long to list, after all, how can you cram 59 years of service into a few paragraphs?
“Most of my participation in the Industry has been voluntary as I love the sport and have a strong passion for all racing,” Reynolds said.
“I have met and still have strong contacts with all levels of the racing industry over the years, which has allowed me to use my expertise to grow, sustain and encourage new ideas and work nationally for a more commercial business as a sport.
“I am so proud to be part of many achievements through the boards and clubs I have worked with all while being involved in a sport I am so passionate about.”
Across the Nullarbor, Jodie Hallows has ‘developed’ into one of Australia’s premier photographers.
Beginning her career as a sharp shooter a decade ago, Hallows’ images have captured numerous awards at local, state and national level.
Along with taking amazing race and behind the scene photos, Hallows and her partner Mick breed and train horses at their new training complex.
“I love getting out there and taking photos,” Hallow said. “Every day offers something new as you never know what is going to happen at the track.
“I also enjoy taking the yearling pictures like I did this year for Allwood Stud.”
On the topic of studs, Kerrie Hymers operates Tourello Standardbreds in Tasmania.
Beginning in Victoria in 2015, Hymers moved her business to the Apple Isle in 2019 where she stands six stallions and offers frozen semen for another two.
“I have always been interested in harness racing which I got through Bob Conroy as my Dad was a friend of his,” Hymers said.
“As a kid I bred a couple of foals from my first mare, but moved to Melbourne so I stopped for a while, but when I moved back to Clunes I bought a few mares and went from there.
“I love harness racing but also have a passion for colours and am trying to improve the breed within standardbreds with each generation by sending the fillies to better stallions.”
Across Bass Strait, the Brosnan family doesn’t just breed successful industry women, they also marry them.
Daughter of accomplished horseman Richard, Virginia Brosnan is a highly-respected veterinarian who cares for a host of major stables throughout Victoria.
Richard’s son, Emmett, married his sweetheart Bridie, nee Bond, who is also a qualified vet.
“Working with animals is all I ever wanted to do, so becoming a vet seemed natural,” Bridie said. “I graduated in 2017 and just love what I do.
“Virginia has been doing it longer, and when it comes to horses, her knowledge it incomparable.
“I met Emmett through friends and it was his love of horses which earned him that first date!”
A love for horses is what led Stacey Wyatt to become a clerk of the course in South Australia.
With Harness Racing SA requiring a back-up clerk for her husband Gordy six years ago, Wyatt applied for and got the position.
“Horses have been a part of my life since forever,” Wyatt said. “Then one day they needed a back up for Gordy so I applied and got the position.
“I love getting out there and being a part of the race meetings.
“People often ask if I get scared when there is a need to spring into action, but you don’t think about it…you’re just focused on what needs to be done.
“You’ve got to get that horse and make sure everyone is safe and that’s all you have in your head.”
Looking ahead, a future generation of horsewomen are in training in New South Wales.
Following their mum Rikki Anastassiou to work at Club Menangle, seven-year-olds Zoe and Allie have gained a love for harness racing and are on the verge of beginning their career as drivers.
Working for KerryAnn Morris, Anastassiou manages the track’s gate on race days and is also a back-up clerk of the course.
As for Zoe and Allie their dream is to win a race at mum’s work with their pony Chocolate.
“I like to drive because it’s fast,” Allie said.
“It’s fun to drive them,” Zoe added. “I like feeding the horses and looking after him…they love pats.”
While they plan to win “lots” of races, Allie is confident she will register the first victory.
“We will get lots of wins at Menangle,” Allie said. “I will win first!”