Screened as part of NZIFF 2004

A Girl, A Horse, A Dream 2003

Directed by Rachel Landers

52 minutes Beta-SP

Director, Screenplay


Simon Smith


Emma Hay


Elliot Wheeler


Bernadette Cooper


Taking its title from the tagline that’s promoted National Velvet to generations of horse-crazy girls, this documentary suggests that 21st-century realities don’t compare too favourably to the 1944 fantasy of the girl who rides in the Grand National. Female jockeys, like Bernadette Cooper, fuelled from an early age by the determination to race thoroughbreds, fight an almost medieval culture of rigid tradition, discrimination, endemic sexual violence and harassment. Roused by an expose of sexism in Australia’s racing industry in The Australian, filmmaker Rachel Landers spent a year with Cooper, the country’s top female jockey as she travelled the track circuit to compete in some highly prestigious races. Funny, articulate and brimming with joie de vivre, Cooper has needed formidable resilience to withstand some severe tests – from the moment she qualified as Queensland’s top apprentice only to find that no one would give her a job. With surprising behind-closed-doors access, Landers and the irrepressible Cooper provide vivid insights into a significant aspect of Australasian culture that remains amazingly hermetic and averse to scrutiny. — BG

I met the redoubtable Bernadette when she barreled into the home of Lee Ann Olsen, the president of the NSW jockey association. She stood in the doorway with her red hair flying and told me that as a little girl she would lie in bed and dream of being this champion jockey, that there was absolutely nothing that was going to stand in the way of her passion for horses and riding fast... So began over a year of lobbing in and out of absurdly small lady jockey rooms all over the country filming this remarkable woman and making a friend in the process. Her courage, warmth, vivacity and sheer endurance, in this male-dominated industry that’s dealt her some pretty vicious blows over the years, make her impressive company… What is lovely about Bernie is that she regards herself as part of a continuum of women who have spent decades fighting discrimination in racing (Australia’s third largest industry). She both acknowledges those that came before her and works to change the culture for the next generation of female jockeys. When we traveled from state to state interviewing different generations of women riders it was clear that they shared a sense of pride in their collective and consistent fight against the status quo as they took on one edifice after another. — Rachel Landers