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A Girl, a Horse, a Dream (2003)


A Girl, a Horse, a Dream follows the top Australian female jockey Bernadette Cooper for a year as she travels around the country competing at country, provincial and metropolitan racetracks. The film interrogates the belief that horseracing is one of the only sports in the world where men and women can compete equally. Along with scenes of the ups and downs of Bernie’s life on the track, the film tackles the unspoken discrimination against women in the racing industry, the differences for female and male jockeys and the sexual harassment that occurs. The film uses observational and race meeting footage, stills, media reports and interviews to capture the sense of exhilaration of the horserace and the passion and dedication of the women who work on the track.

Curator’s notes

The title, A Girl, a Horse, a Dream, comes from the classic fiction film National Velvet (1944) starring Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney. Sequences from National Velvet at the start and toward the end of the film cleverly draw attention to the gap between fiction and reality.

Bernadette Cooper, or Bernie, is robust and dedicated. She is passionate about horses and doesn’t care much for glory or the money earned. In 2002 she is the top female jockey. She wants a chance to progress like the good male jockeys. When the boys win, they keep getting to ride better horses. It doesn’t necessarily happen like that for her.

The women’s liberation movement in the 1960s and 1970s aggressively campaigned for women’s rights and brought issues of sexual oppression, gender equality and discrimination out into the open. It was a long, hard struggle but this agitation paved the way for more and more women to seek work in male-dominated fields and industries. By 2002, when the film was shot, one would have expected that women could do most things without fear or favour.

But the film clearly shows that is still not the case for women in the racing industry, and it seems not much has changed except that the discrimination has become much more subtle. The most prevalent media images of women at the races have always featured elegant women who are beautifully dressed, wearing elaborate hats and sipping champagne. In the documentary we see female jockeys countering these images with their fit bodies and wry witticisms.

A Girl, a Horse, a Dream follows Bernie into rarely-seen places, such as an inquisition by the stewards, the daily arduous track work, the male jockey enclaves and the questionable female jockeys’ facilities, all of which is eye-opening material. There are interviews with current women jockeys, ex-jockeys both male and female, trainers, race writers, and an ex-politician who reveals that racing is not quite what it purports to be – ‘the only sport in the world in which men and women compete equally’. Bernie’s journey is exhilarating, volatile, uncomfortable and enthralling. It’s an extremely tough road for her but she keeps on going with raw energy, determination and self-deprecating humour.

Bernadette has since retired from racing horses and more recently has been working for Sky Channel conducting interviews trackside during the Brisbane Winter Racing Carnival.

A Girl, a Horse, a Dream screened at the 1st Australian Film Festival in Los Angeles in January 2004, was highly commended in the 2004 Dendy Awards and was a finalist in the 2004 ATOM Awards. It also screened on SBS in April 2004 as part of Storyline Australia and was repeated on 2 November 2004, launching a week of programming about the Melbourne Cup.