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The Racing Life of Maddy O'Meara - International Head of Travelling for Andrew Banding

Updated: Mar 27

Whilst growing up on a Cornish farm near Falmouth, Maddy O’Meara was always horsey but initially dismissed a career in horseracing. Yet, she soon had a change of heart and has excelled working in the racing industry ever since. In just over a decade, she resolutely risen in the ranks from groom to pupil assistant to her present role as head lad, international head of travelling and a member of the assistant trainer team for top trainer Andrew Balding. Maddy, 30, started out as a groom at Balding’s, left to work elsewhere in the UK and Australia, only to return… She is a massive part of the team, as is her partner, Paul Morkan, who is the main assistant there.

Home is on site at the beautiful Berkshire setting of Park House Stables, where Maddy heads the Casual Look and Tagula Barns and the wooden boxes, named the Arena Boxes, totalling thirty-two stables in all. As international head of travelling, she has gone racing to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Santa Anita, Belmont, Delmar, Kentucky, Dubai, Quatar and Canada. Of such globetrotting, she speaks with a passion and serenity about her visits abroad, emphasising the dedication of her fellow international travelling staff.

A force to be reckoned with, Maddy has even ridden in point-to-points on her own horse Ethiopia, who was as much a ‘pet’ as a ‘pointer. Even in the little downtime Maddy has, she is active, having received funding through Racing Welfare and its educational trust CATS to become a personal trainer.


Did you have a horsey childhood? I had a very horsey childhood. My mum’s a saddler by trade so I was very horsey, competing in showjumping and going hunting. I started on a lead rein, went to Pony Club and did BSJA – all of that kind of stuff. When I was old enough, I started working within horses down home.

Why did you get into racing? Where I was living, Cornwall, there wasn't much there in terms of making a living or having a career with horses. My mum suggested I went into racing because it's the only equine industry that has a board of people that protects you by making sure you get paid the right way and work the right hours, all that type of stuff.

Initially, I had absolutely no interest in racing – I actually thought it was really quite boring. I wondered why anyone would want to watch a group of horses gallop from one part of a track to another. My lack of interest derived from a lack of understanding, but my mum talked me into it and I came up for the interview. I’ve never looked back.

What trainers have you worked for? I started at Andrew Balding’s as stable staff, then I went to Australia for six months and worked fulltime for Gai Waterhouse, riding out on the track in the morning and then doing whatever things were required in the afternoons. Then, I went to Ed Walker’s as pupil assistant, though assistant head lad was more of the role. From there, I came straight back to Andrew’s as head lad and into my Casual Look Barn that I've still got now.


What is your favourite racecourse in the UK? When I used to take horses racing over here, I loved Chester because of the atmosphere, but there's nothing quite like being in the parade ring at Royal Ascot.

What is your favourite racecourse internationally? I love going to Bahrain even though we haven't run anything there for three years. I really loved Keenland for the Breeders’ Cup, which was amazing. It's in proper horse country – wherever you go, there's amazing studs and rolling hills – it’s just beautiful.


What are the best aspects to travelling internationally? You're one-on-one with the horse you're taking so they get real five-star, luxury treatment, even more so than they get at home, if that is possible. All your attention goes on the horses and they really really love it and chill out. If I’ve taken a spicy one, after the ten days or so, you can see the difference in them. They have that bit of extra time and attention spent on them.

Obviously, I'm very lucky seeing all these amazing racecourses and to have made good friends through travelling. Everyone who goes abroad are all trusted and capable so you're around like-minded people. Whilst you're away, everyone is doing their horse so well and it's lovely to be around the same type of people.

Is there a less glamorous side of international travelling? Although you're not in as much demand as when you’re in a normal head of travelling role, you're on duty 24/7 – no one else is there for this horse. Obviously, airport transfers take hours and hours, often in the middle of the night. There can be issues with a horse’s welfare after they’ve just been on a plane, making them more suspectable to infection, lameness, etc. The trainer isn't there so you have to make the decisions without them; I have to deal with vets and sometimes there's a time difference and you can't speak to the boss. So far, luckily, I haven’t had anything go disastrously wrong but there are always setbacks along the way.

Favourite racehorses: Ethiopia was class. When he was racing under Rules, he was actually third to Balthazar King at Cheltenham.

At Balding’s, we had a big staying horse called Scotland – he was gorgeous; I loved him.

I also loved Bangkok, who was a legend. He's now standing at Chapel Stud, making ‘mini Bangers’. He was the absolute apple of my eye and we did lots of travelling together, which I thoroughly enjoyed. His half-brother The Foxes is here now and he has definitely taken Bangers’ place in the yard – he’s also gorgeous.

Maddy and Bangkok

What is your favourite meeting? For me, doing the international travelling, it’s the Breeders’ Cup. My second is the Saudi Cup – it’s such big money! The first year that I went, it was hard to get my head round it.


Best days in racing so far: One of my best days – it wasn't even a win – was when Bangkok and Spanish Mission went to Saudi and ran in the Saudi Cup on the dirt. Bangkok only came eighth but picked up 400 grand, running an absolute blinder. We couldn’t believe how well he ran. That proves that best days don’t have to be winners.

Kameko winning the 2000 Guinness was a good day. It was during covid and Little Marie, who looked after him, had had a tough time with her mum being sick and Marie couldn't visit her in France. It was so nice for Kameko to win and break the course record – that was a really lovely day.

What do you love about working in racing? The horses. They're just so clever and have such big hearts. They are a special breed, despite being quite cantankerous and testing at times with general freshness.


What are the bad aspects about working in racing? With horses, there's always bad times and seeing them break down on the gallops is horrible. I do struggle with the lack of decent staff nowadays, which is so concerning for the future. Plus, the hours – racing never stops; I’d love a Saturday off every week or have the occasional full weekend off but racing is a lifestyle.


Over the years, has racing changed for the better and for the worse? A bit of both. There’s a shortage of experienced staff in racing and reliance falls on youngsters just coming into yards. It’s scary when you know what these horses are capable of but you have to make the most of these teenagers because they are the only people coming into racing nowadays. Plus, every year, it seems they're getting smaller and smaller, which means theyre not as strong.

On the plus side, there are a lot of perks, like schemes and grants. I got a grant through Racing Welfare and CATS to do a personal training course.


In your view, why did the stable staff crisis occur? It's just a generation of kids being brought up differently, especially with the use of phones now. Consequently, they don't understand what work is. Especially in the last five years, the staff in racing has taken a serious hit.

What was your involvement in the TV series Horsepower? As the cameras followed the yard through the season, I had them on me a lot. They even came out to a couple of international meetings in Dubai and Saudi. I got used to them being around, asking questions and by the end, they completely blended in.


What do you love most about working at Andrew Balding's yard? I love the fact it's a private yard so it's just our horses and it's a lot more relaxed.

I really get on with Andrew and Anna Lisa Balding, which makes it easier with the job roles I have got. I don't have to panic about what I want to say or suggest – I can happily say anything, which is important.

I just love it here – it’s a beautiful yard. It does take a long time to walk in between lots and we're often riding out on the opposite corners of the yard but it keeps my steps up!

Maddy pointing on her Ethiopia


Is social media positive or negative? When I first started doing the travelling, I did loads of social media. The whole aspect was new to me and very exciting. It was really positive. I then did a couple of videos for World Horse Racing about what goes on behind the scenes on international trips, which went down really well, especially with people who didn't know much about racing. People didn't realise horses even went on planes.

Social media does have its bad points but, in my view, it's all reasonably positive.

What is the best racing party you've attended? Here, we throw a very good party if we have a Group 1 winner. Way back when, the best party was probably when Elm Park won the Racing Post Trophy – he was an exciting prospect and Andrew had a Derby horse on his hands. That party was really fun.


Favourite meal: Anything Italian, something full of carbs and cheese.

Favourite drink: I'm partial to a beer or a lager, and I like tea.

Favourite holiday destination: I like Europe, it’s beautiful. On a sunny day, England is better than anywhere: down in Cornwall, if you get the weather, nowhere can beat that place.

Favourite film: I absolutely love Bridget Jones and The Devil Wears Prada.

Favourite music: I have a really wide taste in music. It depends on what mood I'm in – I can listen to anything.

Other hobbies and interests: I do personal training so I'm into my fitness and going to the gym. Hopefully, I’m going to do a full marathon in 2024, so I should say my hobby is running.

Royal Ascot 2022

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Mar 09
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Always a good read ! This really resonated with me though as Park House Stables is like hallowed ground to me, so many favourite horses trained there right back to Mill Reef and Loch Song, I also loved Bangkok and am grateful to visit a few times. Gorgeous, happy yard and the horses always immaculate. On last visit they were packing for travel and the organisation was awe inspiring ! Wishing Maddy all the best.

Mar 09
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Thank you and yes, it’s a wonderful place - a beautiful yard in a beautiful setting. I was invited by the hostel manager Char, another wonderful person, to interview some staff (went out last June) for a blog. The horses and staff were so happy ♥️♥️

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