August is Women’s Month in racing. Ken Nicol had a chat to General Manager of Avontuur Estate Pippa Mickleburgh.
What is your field of responsibility within the sport of horseracing? My job title is General Manager of Avontuur Estate near Stellenbosch, which I have been for no less than 27 years. I am responsible for running all facets of the business, including the Stud of course, but also the wine farm and restaurant. As you can imagine it’s a demanding job.
What is it about your involvement that you love, or are passionate about? It all ultimately comes down to the horse. I do love the entire process from when a mating I put together a foal is produced which goes to the sales, and eventually goes on to win a Grade 1 race. Then I think to myself “that was my little foal” and get great satisfaction from my plan coming together.
As a woman, do you go about your work any differently from your male counterparts? If so, how? In the end you’ve got to be the best. This is a male-dominated business and I am up against some top class rivals. You have to win your client’s trust and do the business, as shown by the fact that Avontuur has on numerous occasions topped the Average-Earnings-Per-Runner table.
Do you take inspiration from other women, even historical figures outside of racing? If so, who and why? Early in my career I learned a lot from Pat O’Neill at Hoog Eind. The meticulous way she prepped horses for sales and the way she handled the social side of the business made a great impression on me.
What advice do you have for women wanting to get into the sport of horseracing? You have to be 100% committed to being the best. This is a nice life but only if you are successful. It’s a seven day a week job and often things like love life and marriage have to be put to the side. In a way you could say I am married to the farm. I’ve given my heart and soul to it. It’s definitely not a lifestyle for everybody.
What words of inspiration do you have for other South African women? I’ll end with a quote by Australian Pastoralist and Author Sara Henderson. “Don’t wait for a light to appear at the end of the tunnel, stride down there and light the bloody thing yourself.”