"The worst three minutes of my life": The story you need to hear before you see Ride Like A Girl.

Ride Like A Girl is a new kind of fairytale film.

At least, that’s how the movie’s director and producer Rachel Griffiths has always seen it, and while it’s light on the dragons and castles there is a certain kind of magic that comes with the story of Michelle Payne, the first-ever female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup.

Ride Like A Girl charts Michelle’s story from her days as a little girl with the seemingly impossible dream to one day win the race that stops the nation. While the physical strength and mental labour that goes into becoming one of the nation’s top jockeys is told through a series of action-packed scenes and heartwrenching moments, at its heart Ride Like A Girl is very much a compelling story about family.

Just like her real-life counterpart, the film’s Michelle (played by Teresa Palmer) is the youngest of ten children, all being raised in a loving but wildly chaotic horse-racing obsessed home by their father Paddy Payne (Sam Neill) after her mother died when she was just six months old.

Following a family trauma and her own near-fatal horse fall, the film builds up to a spectacular finish with Michelle’s historic win at the Cup and even though you walk into the cinema knowing the eventual outcome, it’s still a wild ride to the finish.

On Mamamia’s daily podcast The Spill hosts Laura Brodnik and Kee Reece talk about the importance of Ride Like A Girl along with the biggest entertainment and pop culture stories of the day. 

For Rachel Griffiths, she knew from the moment she watched Michelle cross the finish line that her story was destined to be a feature film.

“That was the easy part, making that decision was just the first five minutes of the four-year process,” Rachel told Mamamia. “Ideas are cheap and easy but it’s the reality of actually getting it made that is the hard part.

“I just love sports films, they are my favourite genre because you can explore so many epic emotions in them. I have always wondered why we have never made a great Australian sports film? Phar Lap is kind of close but that was a long time ago. We are a sporting nation and yet we are always a bit suspicious of the hero’s journey. We don’t like a hero that says ‘I want the golden fleece!’ and then the whole movie is about them trying to get the ‘fleece’ so that is boring.

“We love the accidental heroes here in Australia, but then Michelle’s story fits into that very traditional male ‘heroes arc’ if you like.

“I knew as soon as I read about her family and their life, this big Catholic family from the bush, these battlers, that it was was just a fairytale to me. Then when I found out that Michelle had lost her mother at six months old, when I was watching the Melbourne Cup, I said to everyone around me ‘she is a Disney Princess’. She rides a ‘prince’ (horse Prince of Penzance) into glory but like all the modern princess movies it’s not an actual prince that is her dream or that will carry her there.”


Speaking of that day in 2015 when she won the Melbourne Cup at odds of 100 to 1, Michelle Payne agrees there was a certain magic to her story and it was not something she was going to give away easily.

“It was a very daunting experience but it did all feel like a fairytale,” she told Mamamia of her Melbourne Cup win. “It just felt like everything was falling into place and  I was so confident that something amazing was about to happen.

“When I crossed that line it was like a fairytale had come true but I never thought there would be a film made about my life.

“It then became very apparent that someone was going to make a movie, whether we signed on to be part of it or not, and they could do whatever they want. But when I first met Rachel I was just captivated by her warmth and how strongly she felt about wanting to make the film about family, that’s why I signed the rights over to Rachel.”

Michelle Payne , Rachle Griffiths and Stevie Payne (Michell’s brother who plays himself in the film) celebrate Ride Like A Girl. Source: Getty.

From the outset, Rachel agreed that every beat of the film would be truthful to Michelle's story, noting that other films had in the past fallen into the trap of over embellishing true-life stories.

"I have worked on other biopics where the director and the writer had just made stuff up," Rachel confirmed to Mamamia. "All because they thought 'oh the middle of the film needs some kind of big event, so let's just make it up' and that always sat very uncomfortably with me and often it becomes very controversial.


"I just promised Michelle we should not make stuff up, that we would make a film that she could watch with her whole family and they wouldn’t want to punch us in the face."

While every care was taken behind the scenes while filming, Rachel and Michelle said there was one fateful day where things didn't go exactly to plan on the set of Ride Like A Girl.

"I had this one day with Teresa on the horse at Flemington and it was supposed to be just a small moment," Rachel said. "We had rehearsed this scene three times but the horse Teresa was on had been a racehorse and had run at Flemington, which I didn’t know. So he got triggered when these two other horses went past him. He had a flashback and thought he was back at Flemington and so he took off.

"We had Pete Patterson, who is the key guy at Flemington, there so when there is a riderless horse he will just grab the horse. He went after her and that just made Lord, the horse in question, think he was really in a race.

“So Pete backed off and yelled out to Teresa “just hang on!” She ran out of sight on the horse. She finally got him down to a canter and then managed to do a controlled dismount. It was the worst three minutes of my life.

"We were hearing her because she had a radio mic on and she was just praying, she was praying for 24 hundred meters that she would live to raise her children.

"It was a terrifying moment but it speaks to Teresa's work ethic. She had been fully developing her body because she wanted to achieve the same body that a jockey had and if she wasn’t that hardworking and such a diligently prepared actor I cannot even think it was worth it.

Michelle added that she spoke to Teresa after the incident and recalled that the actress said, “I have a newfound respect for you.”

"It was incredible to hear her version of it. Thank God she was okay."

No one can argue that a wealth of grits, guts, and heart went into bringing Ride Like A Girl to life.

Ride Like A Girl is now playing in cinemas Australia-wide, it is rated PG. 

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