Dr. Diane Ryan
Deputy Chairperson
Harness Racing NSW

My brief for this talk is to present the current picture of women in harness racing in Australia. I will restrict my review to those women participating directly in racing. I have not considered another important area of our industry, the breeding industry, as it is very difficult to obtain statistics from this area.

The association between women and participation in horse sport is very strong. Attend any Pony Club gymkhana and young girls usually outnumber boys by three or four to one. This female dominance continues through to hacking competitions and performance equestrian sports. The success of Christine McLeod and Nicki Bishop at the recent Olympic three day trial test event emphasises not only the involvement of women in the sport but also their excellence in the equestrian field.

How many women are involved in Harness Racing in Australia?.

There are three broad levels of participation in the racing area of the Harness Racing Industry. The Controlling Body or Principal Club which is involved in the management of the whole industry, the Provincial and Country clubs which are involved in the regional conduct of harness racing and the participants who provide the product for competition at the clubs.

At present there are only two women involved in the policy decision level of the State Controlling Bodies as a member of the Administration Board (NSW and Queensland) and one woman involved in the regulation of the industry as a steward (Western Australia). Many functions within the controlling body apart from secretarial and reception are conducted by women although the number involved in these positions varies between the States. The areas of marketing and promotion are two areas where women have excelled.

The six Australian states and the Australian Capital Territory conduct harness racing at 125 clubs and currently 86 women are involved in either the committee or the secretary/general manager level of these clubs. The committees of the Metropolitan clubs in the largest Harness racing states do not have female representation. Tasmania has women represented on both the Tasmanian Pacing Club and Launceston Pacing Club committees.

Australia currently licences approximately 6238 trainers/drivers. There is a total of 515 female trainer/drivers (8.3%). The table below shows the distribution of female participants between the States.


Total trainer/driver licences

Female licences holders

Percentage of female licence holders

New South Wales












Western Australia




South Australia








Women are also employed as stablehands with approximately 358 licences being held. When compared to the number of trainers within the country, very few trainers appear to employ women in their stables.

The official numbers may be an under-representation of the true situation. The unofficial number would include family members of trainers (partners and children) involved in the preparation and daily care of the horses.


The dominance of women in pleasure and performance equestrian sports is not reflected in the Australian Harness Racing Industry. Although women are well represented in the conduct of Provincial, Country and Graduation clubs, there are very few women involved in the control and direction of either the Controlling Body or the Metropolitan Clubs. The tradition of a 'Club' where women are guests, partners or employees rather than members is still apparent in the control of Harness Racing. The top level administration of the sport is still very 'male' oriented.

Although women are proficient in horsemanship outside of the racing industry , only one in twelve participants as a trainer or driver at the track is female. Despite the present low ratio, there are outstanding female participants who are highly competitive against their male counterparts. Kerryn Manning, Lisa Justice, Shelley Barnes and Emma Turnbull are four drivers who compete successfully in either the senior and junior ranks.

The opportunities for women to enter the Harness Racing industry may be one determining factor for the present low numbers in both participation, policy and regulation. Are we encouraging women to become actively involved in the code or is the environment not ‘female’ friendly? Are we providing resources and facilities for women participants? Can women identify a career path in the industry or do they enter because of family involvement? As we do not have statistics from previous years, we cannot determine what the true trend of female participation is (increasing, decreasing or remaining the same).

I have set the scene for the following forum on women in harness racing. The questions I would like our participants to consider is the future of women in harness racing. To begin, we will consider their perspective of the harness racing industry - how and why they became involved in the industry, the negative and positive aspects of being a woman in today's industry and areas where they see improvement can be made.


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