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.
Michelle also made another breakthrough in 2016, being the first female to receive a Chairman’s Award and be inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame – just six months after winning the Melbourne Cup.
Payne was also featured on the front cover of Cosmopolitan Magazines April 2016 issue, winning their ‘Sportswoman of the Year’ Award. That year she was also recognised by the Australian Institute of Sport for ‘Best Sporting Moment of the Year’, received the 2016 Victorian Honour Roll of Women and awarded InStyle Magazine’s ‘Women of Style: Sport Award’.
In 2017, Payne received The International Longines Ladies Awards in Washington celebrating women who have consistently achieved at the highest level within the equestrian world. Michelle spoke to Vogue after receiving the award in the US, saying she hopes her story “opens more doors for not just for women in the racing industry but all walks of life”.
In 2019, Michelle’s inspiring story is being translated for the big screen with major motion picture “Ride Like A Girl” set to hit cinemas in September. Directed by Rachel Griffiths and produced by Richard Keddy, the film stars Teresa Palmer as Michelle Payne, Sam Neil as horse trainer Paddy Payne, and Stevie Payne as himself.