Passion = Profession ?

Career vs. Happiness ? Or does this have to be a question. All my life I focused on the financial side of what I needed to be ‘happy’ and to lead the ‘lifestyle’ I was accustomed to. Well if the past 6 months have proved anything it is that I don’t need a respectable ‘career’ to be happy. Slowly but surely I am figuring out what I want to do with my life, I never thought a 3 month visa stint in the Hunter Valley would turn into a year of possible career progression, yet here we are ! The more time I spend out here amongst these amazing animals and legendary people, the more I am beginning to believe that happiness is a state of mind, rather than a social status or a fat bank account.

The truth is I have never been truly happy with the whole History Lecturer road. 4 years of study, exams, extra-curricular activities, awkward socialising  and an epic group of friends   later I am coming to terms with the fact that I really don’t want to be an academic, I am good at it but it does not make me want to get up at 2.30am to get an eccentric racehorse whose probably going to disgrace himself and me ready for his debut run. This raises probably one of the cheesiest questions you will ever see addressed on this blog; can your passion be your profession ??? Well currently Katie Phelan is giving it a fucking go ! I’ll let ya know how it goes……..


A beautiful Hunter Valley Sunrise.


Hello Sydney !

After another 9 hour flight full of screaming children, Katie legit nearly lost her shit and no amount of sleeping pills or blindfolds could block the little bastards out …. I was very happy to finally arrive in Sydney ! Bags grabbed, the visa wasn’t even checked I strolled on out to meet Mags and John my best friend’s parents who were kind enough to come and get me. Sydney in October was a nice change from the humidity of Hong Kong and to be honest it was love at first sight. Driving out across that harbour bridge towards the Collaroy Plateau I looked through the back window of the Yaris (Sheila as she later became) and was blown away by the magnitude of what I did (this could have been induced by the sleep depravation …. We will never know), but that view will stay with me forever.


Anyway off I went to the suburbs for a 5 day ‘break’ before I started my new job. In a way I wish I hadn’t. Getting to move back in with my America bestie and travel buddy made we way less keen to start all over again on my own. It was such a relaxing few days checking out Manly Beach, Long Reef and of course the Irish must see Palm Beach home of home and away ….. yes I am that much of a stereotype. We will discuss these beautiful places and the nightlife in later posts but first impressions wise everything was fucking expensive ! Food / Alcohol and nights out will quickly eat into your money and the rent prices in Sydney itself are absolutely outrageous.


For the above reasons I would recommend having your CV/ Resume ready to go or like me have already sorted yourself a job. In my case I already had a life time of experience working with horses (not racehorses) but horses. Equestrian jobs usually have crazy hours and it is more of a lifestyle than a career so accommodation is usually included even if it is hideous it is better than paying the mad rent prices associated with Suburbs like Randwick and Kenisington which are extremely popular due to their close proximity to the city centre (10mins on the bus).  Therefore I decided to drop Gai Waterhouse an email and things went from there.

A Career with Horses ?

I will start by saying that a career with horses, especially racehorses is not for the faint hearted. They become your life, your existence revolves around them; are they eating ? did they take a shit? Fuck, does that leg look puffy ? And for every fucked up question  and 4 hours sleep nights you begin to develop a relationship with these four legged children. To many of their owners and trainers they are simply a financial transaction but to their lads and lasses they are individuals. I will never forget my original 5 and how much it meant to me to see them run and swim and spook at bloody leaves.  Every single one of these neurotic creatures has a ‘personality’ and each and every one makes it to the races after 100’s of people just like me have invested much time and emotion in their creation and development. The horse industry is not just about the glory, it is about the taking part. You do not do this job because you have to, you do it because you love it and you love them and that it is all worth it.


A typical day in Australian Racing starts at 3am. Around 2.30 Id roll in the general direction of the kitchen for a coffee and an illicit fag, because straw and smoke don’t mix. Off I’d walk to the yard shortly after to start the day. 3- 8.30am is the working day, firstly all the horses will be bridled up and stuck on the walker for 45 while we all wake up and sort out their boxes (knee deep in straw with massive banks, because racehorses enjoy the melodrama of wedging themselves up against their stable walls on a daily basis). After this walker time the ‘normal’ ones will head to the tie-ups to be saddled up and sent to work. Feeds are mixed/ legs are bandaged/ girths are tightened and up the track riders go in the meantime.



From around 4am the gallopers and fast work horses will start trickling back into the yard where they will need hosing and checking before being returned to their breakfasts and cozy beds. Then usually by 6.30am it is off to the beach (if you can ride and don’t mind the occasional swimming lesson courtesy of your noble steed when he decides he is not a fan of some seaweed or the planes round Botany Bay).  These will be the golden memories that stay long after the exhaustion and reliance on fags and coffee fade. The sun dancing on the water, the horses happily pottering along and the frantic gossip exchanges and breakfast invites from other yard staff. Come 8.30 we are back at Randwick and off for brekkie and a nap.



Then on a normal afternoon we will head back at 12 until 2.30, swim the horses in the pool, feed them, groom them and shovel a bit more shit, then home for the day. In that sense if you actually make yourself go to bed and not go out partying you can lead a pretty normal life with the hours of 2.30-8pm all to yourself, I did not but I do see how some people end up staying in this aspect of the industry for years.



Then for my absolute fave afternoons …. I cannot even begin to describe how happy …. And tired race days made me, whether it was a Gosford maiden or Royal Randwick itself they all meant as much to me. Seeing the reason you get up at 2.30 every morning looking fabulous and doing the job he or she was born to do gives you a really strange burst of emotion. It got me thinking too in regards to this industry as a whole and the amount of people power and passion it takes to create these amazing creatures; Some poor harassed foaling manager and their exhausted foal watch sat up waiting for this tiny creature to appear out of his mum, having no idea whether he would ever make a racehorse – but they did it, Somebody pulled him out and got him up and drinking in the frosty Oz spring mornings and so it continued a stud groom put his first head collar on and thought him how to lead, how to pick up his little feet, how to pose for photos, some suicidal horseman we call a breaker tightened the first girth and hopped board …. The pre-trainers, the owners, the trainer, the jockey, the yard staff, the farrier, his lad or lass, his work rider the list is fucking endless! But what I am getting at is the fact that a million hearts are intermittently linked to each of these amazing animals from birth to track to death they influence so many lives and shape so many passions. Yes Katie is getting deep and meaningful here at 4am in Kuala Lumpur but it is true  So Yeah, this is what the racing industry and my time in it has meant to me.