Beating the odds


May 29, 2012

Aspiring horse trainer Ashlea Stelmach has dreams of making it in thoroughbred racing – an industry still dominated by males.

Stelmach after a race

Stelmach, 23, who grew up in racing with her mother a trainer and her father a racing manager, told InkWire that the industry was a “real gamble”.

“Having racehorses, you never know if your horse will end up winning $100,000 or never even making it to the track,” Ms Stelmach said.

She said it was the thrill and excitement of the industry that drew her in.

After starting in racing at a young age working for her family, Stelmach has since worked at different race tracks across Australia.

She said that it was a challenge being taken seriously in an industry so dominated by males.

“It can be a disadvantage being a woman in racing, particularly in Western Australia,” she said.

“Out of 44 open class trainers in WA only three of them are women and out of 30 B-class trainers there are only two women.”

One of those three open class trainers is Stelmach’s mother, Christine Stelmach.

“My mum has been the biggest influence being one of the first open class trainers in WA and even being a leading trainer throughout the 1990s,” Stelmach said.

Stelmach celebrates a win

“When women were first allowed to train they were not even allowed to saddle their own horse.

“It was believed that they weren’t strong enough and could not do up the girth.”

Ms Stelmach recently purchased her first yearling at the 2012 Magic Millions sales in Perth.

For the past year she has been competing in amateur meetings throughout the state – winning multiple races.

“You really need to have proven results before people will take you seriously in this game,” Stelmach said.

Within the industry there are several organisations and people trying to promote women in racing and show the large amount of job opportunities.

Margaret Thornlie from Women in Racing Australia said there were still many problems facing women in the industry but there was a lot being done.

“Race clubs across Australia are creating events and schemes aimed to target women in the hope of evening the playing field,” Mrs Thornlie said.

Stelmach with the Melbourne Cup

“Let’s not forget it was only in the 1980s that women weren’t even allowed on certain areas of the racecourse.”

Magic Millions is now launching the first ever women’s-only incentive thoroughbred racing scheme.

The top four “all women owned or leased” horses will receive part of a $500,000 bonus.

Photos: Alicia Campbell

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