A day in the life… with Stallion Handler Maddy Dunbar

April 2, 2023 | WiR Features

Maddy Dunbar is a Stallion Handler for Godolphin, currently based at Dalham Hall Stud in Newmarket. Find out about Maddy’s role and career journey so far – from New South Wales, Australia to the UK.

Tell us about you

I first started in the racing industry when I was 16, riding out in the mornings for trainers at my local track in Inverell, NSW, before heading to school for the day.

In 2017 I completed a TAFE racing course that led me to a week’s work placement at Godolphin’s Kelvinside Stud which is located in the Hunter Valley.

A TAFE (technical and further education) course is a mostly free extracurricular course for anyone seeking extra skills or certifications. You can get certified for almost anything  and they can give you some great contacts out in the big wide world, I think they are awesome!  My course really kick started my career for me – I never even heard of Godolphin before then!

That week really kicked off a new passion for the racing industry and after I graduated from High School in 2019 I moved  to my new home in Scone, NSW to work for Godolphin riding the breakers.

After my first season, I was offered a position at the stallion yard to see if it was something I wanted to get into. I thought why not!

I have now done three stallion seasons with Darley Australia, alternating between the yearling breaking and the stallion season. January to May, I break in the babies and from September to December, I work with the stallions during the breeding season. This year I was lucky enough to travel with the stallions to the UK for the northern hemisphere breeding season and will return home with them at the end of July, ready for the new southern hemisphere breeding season.

Day-to-day life

I start at the yard at 7am, where we all see what horses are covering that morning and turn out the ones that do not have a cover. We muck out all the boxes before the covers start at 8am.
After covers are done, we hand walk the stallions around the farm for an hour. We then have a 30 min break before bringing the stallions that were turned out for the morning in and bath them if necessary (most love to be covered in mud by this time). We have about 1.5hrs before 1pm covers so get onto any jobs that need doing, such as polishing doors, cleaning around the yard and cleaning tack. Some days we will also have parades for clients during this time.
Lunchtime covers normally go anywhere from 1-2pm most days. Half of the team will go for lunch before 1pm and the other half will go after covers.
After lunch I walk Harry Angel around the farm for an hour (he goes on his own because he doesn’t like being walked with the other stallions), then give him a good groom when we finish.
The stallions are fed at 4pm and we finish at 4:30pm. We come back at 7pm for covers most nights and we alternate nights for midnight covers.

Travelling the world
It was such an amazing experience to shuttle with the stallions, to really see behind the scenes with how they travel and what goes on. The past three years I was lucky enough to be able to put the stallions on the plane in Australia and see the process, but when I flew from Australia to the UK in December 2022, that was my first time flying with them.
Godolphin has provided me with amazing experiences that I wouldn’t get anywhere else and I am so thankful for that. Hopefully in the future I will get more opportunities to shuttle with the stallions – I would love to go to America for their breeding season one day.
It took me a few days to adjust to the different time zones, especially the different seasons as it was summer when I left Australia, and snowing when I arrived in the UK!
The stallions quarantine for two weeks on the farm in Australia before they fly, then move straight onto the stallion yard in the UK. When they fly back to Australia, they will quarantine for two weeks at our facility in the UK and when they land they will do another two weeks in quarantine in Melbourne. I will be one of the grooms looking after them through those quarantine periods.

Do you have favourites?

My favourite stallion is Too Darn Hot. He’s certainly got a big character, but I do love him.
A stallion I would like to work with in the future would be Anamoe. Anamoe was broken in when I first started working for Godolphin in 2020. I was fortunate enough to be around his upbringing and have a ride on him as a yearling. Being able to work with him in the breeding shed after what he has accomplished would be very exciting.
Each of the stallions have a different personality and that is what I love about this job. No two stallions are the same and they make you think outside the box and learn a variety of skills.
Most of the stallions try to bite and some will kick, but at the end of the day they are a well-behaved bunch to look after!

If you could send your mare to any sire that have their first runners this year, who would it be?
I would have to say Too Darn Hot, not only because he is my favourite stallion, but I have seen many of his foals, all with his good looks. His yearlings have sold very well at sales and he is always popular throughout the Northern and Southern hemisphere breeding seasons.

Finally, some advice from Maddy…

If you’re considering a role like mine, my advice would be to just go for it!

It may be uncommon to have women working with stallions but it is definitely not impossible and is something that should be talked about more. People come up to me after a stallion parade to congratulate me and tell me they didn’t know that it was even an option for women to get a job working with stallions. This perception is slowly changing and I hope to be a part of that change in the future. I am the first female Stallion Handler to work for Godolphin at Dalham Hall Stud, and hopefully not the last.
Change may not happen overnight, and most women work twice as hard to prove themselves in my experience, but it is possible.

Thank you Maddy!