19 September 2022

Riverina Rewind: There was no sidesaddle for these lady jockeys

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Lady Jockeys

Female jockeys of the Riverina. Photo: Museum of the Riverina.

This week, the team from the Museum of the Riverina take us back through the history of women who rode at the racetrack.

Most people are unaware that ladies’ races used to be a common feature of horse racing events in Australia as far back as the late 19th century.

This wonderful photo shows six female jockeys who were riding at amateur picnic races throughout the Riverina in the mid-to-late 1930s.

The women are (from left to right): Ailsa Robertson “Nargoon” Gundagai, Joan Horsley, Peggy Robertson (Ailsa’s sister), Nedra Heffernan “Lowa Langy” Junee and sisters Patricia “Meg” Horsley and Gwen Mary Horsley. The Horsley sisters all lived at “Goonigul”, Wagga.

READ ALSO: Riverina Rewind: When Wagga danced on the water under the stars

In March 1936 the Yass Picnic Races were held. An interesting feature of these races (as reported in The Young Chronicle) was the Laverstock Grass Eaters’ Trial Stakes, in which for the first time, only lady riders were allowed.

There were five riders – Peggy Robertson (on the winner, Miss Murthly), Ailsa Robertson (on Murberra), Joan Horsley, Nedra Heffernan and Miss McFarlane from Young. According to the article:

“They proved excellent horsewomen, handling their mounts in processional style. Miss Peggy Robertson, rider of the winner, was credited with being the best horsewoman as far as racing is concerned, and many punters probably ‘backed the jockey’.”

This photograph, however, was taken by commercial photographer Ivan Piercy, at the Murrumbidgee Turf Club, and is dated c. 1935.

At the Wagga Wagga Amateur Picnic Races held in April 1937, there were eight women with horses in the field, and some rode their own mounts in the ladies’ race. Meg, Gwen and Joan Horsley and Ailsa Robertson rode once again, in addition to Flo Mitchell of Sandy Creek.

Image and information supplied by Museum of the Riverina curator Michelle Maddison.

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