Growing up on a farm at Miners Rest, near Ballarat in Central Victoria, Michelle is the youngest daughter of the ten children of Paddy and Mary Payne. Tragically, Michelle’s mother Mary died in a motor vehicle accident when Michelle was only six months old, leaving Paddy to raise the children as a single father.
A racing family, a career in the saddle always beckoned for Michelle and she followed seven of her brothers and sisters when she rode in her first competitive race at the age of 15. Riding at Ballarat, Michelle saluted in her first race aboard Reigning – a horse trained by her father.
Michelle’s career hasn’t been without challenges. In March 2004 at the age of just 18, Michelle was pulling up her mount Vladivostok, having just finished 11th in the Torbek Handicap at Sandown. 100 metres past the winning post the horse fell suddenly, sending Michelle head first into the turf. The incident left Michelle with a fractured skull and bruising to her brain.
Michelle suffered two further serious falls in 2012 and in May 2016, just months after winning the 2015 Melbourne Cup, Michelle suffered yet another life threatening fall at Mildura. This time Michelle required pancreatic surgery and a long recovery, before yet another inspiring comeback to racing.
Michelle’s affinity for horses has seen her ride over 700 winners, including five Group One’s –
In 2016, Michelle and her brother Stephen were given the honour of being named Queen and King of Moomba.