*Today is International Day of People with Disability
WHEN jockey Michelle Payne became the first female in history to triumph at the Melbourne Cup this year her strapper, brother Stevie Payne, was also catapulted into the national consciousness.
Stevie who has Down syndrome, captured hearts and imaginations whilst he unintentionally highlighted inclusion in the workplace for people with disability in a way seldom seen in this country.
Employed at winning trainer Darren Weir’s Forest Lodge Ballarat stables for close to a decade, Stevie’s employer has been quoted as saying he has “a great rapport with horses.”
Older brother Andrew Payne confirms Stevie learnt his craft at a young age with his father’s horses.
“He had been working with dad’s horses for years. He started to come to the stables and learning between the ages of 10 and 12 and started getting really good at it by 14.”
The 32-year-old works six days a week with Sunday off and a typical working day begins at 4.30am.
“Some (horses) I can saddle up and get ready to be trained and when they come back from training my role is to hose them down, dry them off, put them on the walker and give them a swim,” Stevie explains.
“I like cleaning up, not so much at home, but at work I do.”
He admits a part of the job he finds stressful can be giving the horses a swim due to an incident years ago when 500kg of race horse sunk like a stone – a lesson he has never forgotten.
“Swimming is not my greatest thing. Some of the horses don’t swim you have to help them then.”
With around 50 other workers at the stables Stevie says he loves working as part of a team.
“There are about 50 staff workers there who can help you out,” he says and with 120 horses on site there is always something to do.
On race days he needs to be flexible as strappers are told on the day if they are going to the track. Race days are long. There is an early start, but the last race can be as late as 5.30pm so he can’t be sure what time he will get home.
For the Melbourne Cup, Stevie’s role in the big win began before the race when he drew the barrier for his sister and her ride.
His intention was to draw barrier one or two and so he came up with a tactic to do this.
“I saw Michelle coming to help me draw the barrier so I got up quickly before she got to me,” he says.
“I was going to pick one in the middle. I was going for luck.”
And luck it was as Stevie drew the coveted barrier one.
“I was happy with that one,” he says.
Despite spring carnival being in full swing Stevie managed to savour the win and his new found fame in between racing and working engagements.
“The next day I went to Kyneton and Michelle got the helicopter down,” he says.
While there was no helicopter ride for him there was the thrill of experiencing his new celebrity status as the fashion on the field entrants recognised him and insisted on photos.
On the china cabinet at the Payne family home is a picture of Stevie beaming proudly beside his brother-in-law, jockey Brett Prebble, moments after Prebble won the 2012 Melbourne cup on Green Moon.
The photo would have been Stevie’s career highlight, that was, until the incredible story of the Melbourne Cup 2015 unfolded.
Undoubtedly there are a couple of new photos now waiting to be added to the family treasures.
Michelle says her brother’s involvement in the win has challenged some of the stigma around Down syndrome.
"I think it's great for other people with Down syndrome — to see how capable they can be in normal life.”
"Stevie can pretty much do anything, and look after himself when he's on his own,” she said.