Rising star Katelyn Mallyon tells us all about her early love for horses, support from her parents, what it’s like getting back on the saddle after a coma, and preparing for Spring Racing Carnival 2016. She also proves that being a female in a male-dominated sport isn’t a drawback, but an advantage.
ON GROWING UP AROUND HORSES
The first time I ever sat on a horse, I was too young to remember. My first memory was a pony that Mick Kent gave me when I was two years old.
I was a Daredevil and I used to pull my irons up like a jockey and ride the Shetland pony around the sand roll before kinder.
Getting me to kinder and school each day was a struggle for my family, but if there was a horse around, I was the happiest little girl in the world. I use to sneak out into the racehorses’ boxes and cuddle them until mum would find me and drag me back inside.
I was horse mad. I remember when I was around the age of eight and I would set my alarm one hour before mum and dad would get up just to have all the boxes and waters done before we would take the horses to the track in Seymour.
I worked like a full time stablehand from the age of eight onwards with absolutely no pressure from my family. If they tried to stop me they would have to deal with a monster child. On top of this I obviously was at school and also playing representative basketball and netball. Mum would then take me to gymkhanas and shows on the weekend with my ponies until I was 14.
Once I was 14 I was licensed and started riding track work on my birthday, and it was the best present I could have imagined.
MUM AND DAD ARE THE BIGGEST SUPPORTERS
I speak to them on a daily basis! My dad helps me with my rides each day whilst mum is always there with encouragement and good lucks. I’m very fortunate to have such a smart-minded father who has probably become my biggest mentor.
I’ve found with maturity that everything my mum and dad have told me growing up has been always been just about right. When I was younger, I thought I knew everything like most 16-year-olds. I soon learnt after stepping into a very adult male-dominated industry that listening and learning was the only way I was going to become the best jockey. Mum and Dad’s tips and suggestions are now called on daily and I’m just lucky to have that advice from them.
THE DAILY ROUTINE
A typical day for me is pretty busy nowadays. I’m now a senior jockey and I try and ride work every day for different trainers that are willing to support me with rides. Flemington has always been a good base for me but I head out to Euroa and do a bit of work at Caulfield.
I usually wake up around 4am and head off to track work until 7am, which then is a good time to check scratchings and form for the day ahead. I ride around 4-6 days a week. I’m blessed with being a lightweight so that makes it a lot easier.
“I know I couldn’t go a day without having my morning coffee and toast.”
Heading home and having breakfast before heading to the races doesn’t sound like much to the normal person but it really is. What some jockeys have to do to lose weight is an absolute credit to them, but I know I couldn’t go a day without having my morning coffee and toast.
I then head off to the races and make all my calls to family. I call my pop Mick Mallyon and make sure he knows what races I’m in so he can watch them. Hopefully I come home with a winner and depending on where the races have been sometimes I get home at 7-8 pm. It’s a long day but coming home a winner makes the trip go a lot faster.
RECOVERING FROM A FALL
It was going to take a lot to stop me returning to the saddle. It happened the second year of my riding and I knew I had so much more to offer as a jockey. I had more determination after the fall to show people what that this wasn’t going to stop me.
“I made it very clear to mum once I woke up out of my coma that I will be back to outride my claim and win a big one.”
My family were very supportive. Lucky enough they have been through bad falls themselves and they know the love of riding horses is too strong to fight. If I wanted to keep going they were always going to stand behind me with whatever decision I made. I made it very clear to mum once I woke up out of my coma that I will be back to outride my claim and win a big one.
After falling it was very difficult to watch on. I was leading the apprentice premiership by a long way with three months to go and I was worried I was going to be caught after falling.
When the season ended and I still won the premiership it was a huge relief and a massive thrill. The first girl to win the premiership and missing three months of the season I was on top of the world. With lots of physio(therapy) and hard work, I was able to be back in 9 months, dodging 3 back surgeries with very good surgeons working with me to get back riding.
COMPETING IN A MALE-DOMINATED SPORT
I’ve never felt like I’d been given less opportunities than a boy. I think with good education and guidance from people who know the girls can start their careers well enough, that gives no one the excuse of being a girl.
I think the females have more of a loving kind way about them. Horses can respond well to being talked to and cared for like we do. As any girl will say, we’re strong-willed, tough, and work until we drop. Especially when we are doing something we love, we put everything into it.
Michelle (Payne) took me under her wing when I first started riding at the age of 16. She mentored me and is a great friend. (When she won the Melbourne Cup, it was) unbelievable! It took a good 5 minutes to sink in. It was a amazing ride and a well deserved win.
Danny (O’Brien) is fantastic to work with. He started supporting me in 2012 when I started riding in town and has given me many opportunities that I’ve ridden to victory. Danny gave me a lot of confidence early in my career by putting me on some great horses like Shopaholic and Shamexpress, which took my riding to another level.
I certainly feel that with the sport being mostly dominated by males, it makes women more eager to prove themselves. I’ve always felt that I push harder and harder to prove I’m the best, and beat whoever is in my way. I’ve always had this attitude, and to be a good sportsperson, I think you need to have this competitive nature.
I try and help anyone that wants to be helped. My advice would be to start them off riding horses in a riding school where they can have fun and learn from the start as to how it all works. Racing Victoria is fantastic with people wanting to start and they have wonderful people coordinating the best spots for people to learn.
The future for women in horse racing is definitely looking brighter with girls being given more opportunities to be jockeys. We are naturally lighter in weight which is a huge benefit. With Michelle winning one of the greatest races in the world I hope that it opens more doors for us in the future.
ON BEING A MODEL
I was picked off the street in Melbourne when I was in year 10. At 16 years old I was well and truly into my racing and the love was growing even stronger for race riding once I started going to apprentice school.
I threw the card in my bag and when I returned home my mum found it. She gave the agency a call and made a booking for me to go in and see him. I didn’t feel comfortable from the start, but it was nice to go in and have a look at what it was all about.
It came to a point where I had to make a decision once they decided they wanted to take me to the US. I knew exactly what I wanted to do and my answer was simple.
Lucky enough for me I do what I love and I’m able to also model every Spring Racing Carnival and Autumn Racing Carnival for Racing Victoria and Melbourne Racing Club.
When I look back on it, of course I’d love to be friends with (models) Gigi (Hadid) and Kendall (Jenner), but the friends I have made in this job are amazing and maybe when I take out a big race Gigi and Kendall might be watching on.
“I’d love to have a ride in the Caulfield Cup — it’s a race that’s meant a lot for me and my family after my pop winning three of them.”
CAULFIELD CUP DREAMS
I had a short break over winter before the Spring Racing Carnival starts pumping up. I’m hoping with the great support I do have I’m able to pick up good rides in big races over the Spring Racing Carnival.
I’d love to have a ride in the Caulfield Cup — it’s a race that’s meant a lot for me and my family after my pop winning three of them.
I’m lucky I can ride any weight which gives me more opportunities. Hopefully another Shamus Award at 49kg in the Cox Plate will come my way.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Track Mode is a horse racing and fashion site founded and curated by Nina O’Brien. Subscribe to our newsletter to get exclusive race day fashion edits straight to your inbox! You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google+.
Treat yourself to our guide to Spring Racing Carnival 2016 to get the best out of the season! You’ll find racing fashion inspiration, guides to horse racing, and more interviews with the most important personalities in the horse racing industry.