By now we’re sure many of you will have seen Ride Like A Girl, the Australian-made movie based on the life of Michelle Payne, the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup. However, you might not be aware it has a strong Peninsula connection in the form of Funky Farm owner Chris Symons.
Chris, a jockey himself who is also Channel 7’s race day host, is good friends with Michelle and had been helping with her management. After Michelle won the 2015 Cup on outside chance Prince of Penzance, Chris stepped back to let professional managers take charge. By Oaks Day, she called in some friendly guidance once again to assist her in choosing the agency that would have her best interests at heart.
From here a variety of endorsements came, as well as a book deal and a film offer with producer Richard Keddie and director Rachel Griffiths. Shortly afterwards, Richard approached Chris for his assistance on the movie after hearing about his talent working with animals — especially horses — and the jockey cam he’d developed for Seven to use in its racing coverage.
“We had a chat six months after Michelle won,” Chris said. “I didn’t think much of it until a year later when Richard rang and said: ‘It’s game on!’ I sat down again with Richard and Rachel and we built it from there. It was my first time working on a movie; it was very exciting.”
Chris’s role as adviser included making sure all parts and scripts were accurate reflections of the industry — especially the horse terminology — as well as managing the 37 horses used in the making of the film. “We only bought one horse, called Lord Oberon. He was one of four horses used for Prince of Penzance. He’s remained with me and is now known as Kevin from Seven. He joins me for my interviews on Channel 7 for race days.”
Chris’s support team included his wife, Sam, and friend Peter Patterson. They were kept busy operating cameras, managing the horses and ensuring the welfare of all the animals on the set, recreating races, choreographing, organising safety staff and stunt co-ordinators, training actors to behave like jockeys, co-ordinating colours, sourcing locations, and ultimately working with every department. Together they trained 36 horses to work with people. Chris tells us that he couldn’t have achieved it all without the help of his amazing team — especially Peter, who taught Teresa Palmer, the actor who plays Michelle, how to ride like a jockey.
“We made sure there was a vet on site at all times. All of our horses got checked prior to becoming part of the production. Their pre-production and post-production careers were important to us. We re-homed them with care or gave them back to their owners, of course.”
Chris has the upmost respect for horses. They are remarkable workers and amazing animals. They had to trust Chris and he had to trust them — especially when he had to hang off the side of them to get a good action shot — and Chris said he built an amazing relationship with Prince Oberon.