On owners, diversity and the future

Last season I took the plunge and joined the NZ Thoroughbred Owners’ Federation.  The organisation, with which I had quite a few dealings during my time at the NZ Trainers’ Association, just requests a mere $55 annual sub.

For this one gets membership and the promise that they will, on my behalf, work “to improve the economics, integrity and pleasure of the sport of thoroughbred racing.”

If I’m honest, I only joined to see who was running the group and how well they had embraced technology to grow their membership and fulfil at least the latter promise.  I wasn’t really surprised to see that the president was the same one I used to attend meetings alongside back in the early 2000s.  It’s not easy getting people to volunteer for such thankless tasks.

Not wanting to put the boot in – it would be akin to kicking puppies – the Federation seems mired in a time before technology even though it does have a website.  Their communication with members could be so much better, as could their acknowledgement of winning owners who are members of syndicates.  Achieving the latter might even assist when it came to attracting members.

I paid my membership – online, so that must be a positive – and then, sometime later in the mail came a card which declared me a member and was my Owners’ ID card.  Nothing else with the card, no welcome letter or list of membership benefits, just the card.  It did seem to be a waste of an opportunity to maybe recruit new committee members or extend an invitation to up-coming events or, anything really.

No doubt there will be more mail awaiting me at my home address when I return, advising me my membership for the current season is due.

The other item which arrives in the mail – although also available to view online – is the Owners’ Bulletin.  My background in magazines means I have an addiction to all things glossy and printed.  While there is a convenience to being able to read stories online I still prefer the tactile approach while sipping my beverage of choice.

The Bulletin has the potential to provide owners, old and new, with relevant news, information, background, insights as well as the opportunity to bask in the reflected glory of one’s equine stars.  However, this also suffers from the fact that too much is being required from the few put-upon souls volunteering their time to run the Federation and get the Bulletin out on time.

There is only one word for it – tired.  Probably much like the volunteers.

Surely the clearest sign that they struggle to find current and relevant content is the inclusion of an NZRB puff-piece – it would appear the Federation is drinking the NZRB kool-aid!  Running press releases without questioning their veracity doesn’t put me in mind of an organisation which is fighting to improve the economics of our industry.

Owners are footing the bills which keep horses going around in this country and we deserve so much better than the NZRB has been delivering.

A little debate in the July edition which I found interesting was a discussion about diversity within racing.  It amuses me, coming from my current role at a University, when people within racing speak about diversity and assume we are talking only about men and women.  Anyway, I’ll play their game!

So, let’s examine the inclusion (I prefer this term when we are talking the male/female divide) of the fairer (in so many ways) sex within the NZ racing industry.

As everyone knows we are marking 40 years of women competing on an equal playing field with men as jockeys.  And, unlike so many other sporting areas, there has been no gender pay gap, from day one they have earned the same money for the same work.

Female jockeys are an accepted part of racing life here to the extent they nearly outnumber the blokes.  In this area we are leaving Australia behind.

Likewise, we also recognised female trainers many, many, many decades before the Australians.  As far as they are concerned Shelia Laxon was the first female to train a Melbourne Cup winner.  In fact, it wasn’t until that happened that the Aussies managed to ‘fess up that they had indeed done Granny McDonald wrong.  Back in 1938 when her horse Catalogue won the Cup rather than be able to stand up and claim the win as hers, Granny had to sit back while husband Allan was lauded as the winning trainer.

We have females working in most every area of racing here, although I haven’t noticed anyone putting their hand up to attempt commentating.  Considering the feverish backlash in the world of cricket and rugby it may be some time before we find a female with a suitable alto voice and a skin thick enough to take the barbs!  A shout out to Victoria Shaw in Australia here, this is one area where they have beaten us.  Victoria making her calling debut in 1998.

The talk within the industry about diversity, seems to stem from general media talk about representation on boards and the age-old pay parity argument.  Numbers are growing, albeit slowly with the NZX reporting in January that 27% of directors on NZX/S&P50 boards were female, up from 22% the following year.

It’s progress but I think amid the clamour to get more women on Boards we should also be considering how many women WANT to be on boards and focusing on having, first and foremost, people with the best skillset, regardless of gender.

Having served on the committee/Boards of three very different racing clubs I can report from personal experience that things have changed since my first experience in 1996 when I was the only female.  A subsequent experience saw me serve as Vice-President to a female president on a committee which boasted five women.  I am certain that was because it was an extremely hands-on committee which held working-bees (read, cleaning frenzies) in the days prior to race days!

Again, it comes back to whether women want to be involved and what they bring to the table.

The Owner’s Bulletin piece seemed to feel the solution lay with the industry attracting more young people who embrace the idea of diversity, after all the future will be in their hands.

While it is a great concept it is also a cop-out.  Great ideas are not the preserve of the young and some people push boundaries until the time comes to push up daisies.

What the industry needs in spades is passion and a desire to see things change for the better.

We need to be part of the solution!






One thought on “On owners, diversity and the future

  1. Hi Mary,
    Really appreciate the shout out and look forward to the day that women across the racing world including the land of the long white cloud step into the broadcast box. Here in Australia my determination is backed and supported by my fellow male race callers, the debt of gratitude I have for them can probably never be repaid. Support beyond these wonderful individuals has been extremely underwhelming, which leads me to your last point…..”a desire to see things change”. Come on New Zealand! Your great women rode in the Melbourne Cup before ours! I don’t believe some misogynistic idiot put a white line on the ground at New Zealand’s tracks either, however gender inclusion is not racing’s only concern. Change on many levels is needed quickly across so many aspects of racing otherwise our much loved sport becomes irrelevant in an ever changing digital landscape. One racing community that has embraced change at track record pace is the Islamic world. In under two decades women in various nations including Morocco, Oman and the UAE have women riding as jockeys, training and owning racehorses. Twenty years ago women in these nations did not own their front door. Change has occurred with their inclusion and opportunities because their male leaders want it. Great to see some nations wanting rapid change. Mary, as for our respective nations, apart from a few gutsy individuals I often question if people actually do want change? Whatever the case, they won’t stop those of us that do.


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