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Australian Story -

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This week's program is about an exceptional woman who grew up just down the road from the Victorian
High Country.

Her father would have preferred a son and he raised Leigh Woodgate to be tougher than all her male

Leigh Woodgate became a renowned and fearless horsewoman who excelled at bush racing.

She soon graduated to the hazardous sport of steeplechasing or 'jumps racing' and became something
of a celebrity.

But when disaster struck, she stunned the racing establishment with courage and determination of
quite epic proportions, unfolding over two decades.

PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT: Monday, 19 March , 2012

TOM BURLINSON, PRESENTER: Hello. I'm Tom Burlinson. I can't believe it's been 30 years since I
played the lead in the movie The Man from Snowy River. Since then, I've continued to ride in the
High Country. Tonight's program is about a fearless horsewoman who grew up just down the road from
the Snowy, who beat the men at their own game. They breed them tough in those mountains, and Leigh
Woodgate's experiences have been epic. This is her story.

LEIGH WOODGATE: Every single thing that happens to you in life is a learning experience. I'm lucky
that I've being brought up that you've got to work very, very hard for what you want.

ERIC MUSGROVE, HORSE TRAINER: There had been a couple of female jumps riders prior to Leigh, but
Leigh was a natural - she had the perfect background, she's a girl from Buchan, her father's one of
the original mountain cattlemen, Grub Woodgate.

BRYAN MARTIN, RACING COMMENTATOR: I suppose in racing we talk about horses having a pedigree to
race, and Leigh certainly had a pedigree to race, and to be a jockey - and to go to the next level
as a jumping jockey... it's got to be one of the most dangerous professions in the world

LEIGH WOODGATE: Dad said to me, he said, "Who chose to do jumps racing?" I said, "I did". He said,
"Who warned you against it?" I said, "You did." He said, "Get over it - it's up to you to get over

BRYAN MARTIN, RACING COMMENTATOR: Leigh obtained a high profile just through doing the commercial
at the time for the TAB. That sort of propelled her into the spotlight, and because she was
attractive and she obviously was a very good young horse person, and people latched onto Leigh
Woodgate and wanted to know what she was doing - where did it all start, you know where was the
beginning with her relationship to horses?

LEIGH WOODGATE: Buchan is a very small community, it's very close-knit. The families have known
each other for generations.

VAL WOODGATE, MOTHER: When Leigh was born, Grub was disappointed that Leigh wasn't a boy. He got
over it. As time went on and her interest in horses grew, well you know, things settled down.

PETER SANDY, FAMILY FRIEND: The son Craig, he wasn't much interested in horses and that, and Leigh
was always mad keen on riding 'em, so Grub probably took her under his wing.

LEIGH WOODGATE: In a farming family the boys are absolutely everything, but I was the apple of
Dad's eye. Dad gave me the best childhood, he took me to all the shows, the gymkhanas, pony club
events, bush racing. When I was 25 years of age, I rode in my first Cattlemen's Cup in 1989. Bush
racing - if you've seen The Man from Snowy River, it's in rough terrain and they race through it
like you're catching a mob of brumbies.

RICK HODGE, BUSH RACING RIDER: Back in those times it was a really unique time in bush racing. You
had half a dozen riders that you could nearly guarantee would finish in the top six. Competitively,
Leigh had as much experience or more than most people, so you could guarantee that she was going to
be in the mix there somewhere

LEIGH WOODGATE: Dad was a massive part of my life, especially with the bush racing. He just
expected me to compete against the men on an equal basis. I was dad's right hand man with the
cattle work, so they gave me a lot of respect.

VAL WOODGATE, MOTHER: She was there to win, and she just went for it. You just got used to it and
thought, "Well, if she's going to fall off she's going to fall off and that's it. She'll either get
back on if she won't - she'll end up in hospital."

CHRIS STONEY, FORMER BOYFRIEND: One year at Mansfield coming down the hill there, this chestnut
bloody flash took me on the inside and straight up the bloody straight, and it was Leigh, of
course. She rounded us up and we couldn't get near her - that was the year she won it

LEIGH WOODGATE: When I won the Great Mountain Race in 1990, I went flat out down the hill, and that
is where I passed everybody - and I couldn't believe that I had won it because no woman had won the
race before. I said to him after it, I said, "How did I do Dad?" He said, "Really good Leigh," he
said, "but the hard thing will be winning it next year. They'll all be out to beat you." It was
never ever good enough - there was always the next challenge.

BRYAN MARTIN, RACING COMMENTATOR: Jumps racing is something that we inherited from the mother
country many hundreds of years ago.

ERIC MUSGROVE, HORSE TRAINER: They used to call it steeple chasing, which people used to race from
church steeple to church steeple. And it's virtually a race over two mile or more, with obstacles
in the way. South Australia and Victoria are the only states to have jumps racing.

BRYAN MARTIN, RACING COMMENTATOR: They go at an incredible speed of, say, 40 to 45 km an hour. A
lot of these fences have been lowered down to a brush fence to make it a lot easier for horses to
jump, and some horses respect them and some don't, so that can be a little bit difficult. It makes
for fast jumping races, and quite often there can be accidents.

GLENYS OOGJES, ANIMALS AUSTRALIA: It is a controversial issue, there is passion on both sides.
Jumps racing is inherently dangerous - it's dangerous for the horse, it's dangerous for the jockey;
and that's because we have horses going over long distances, many hurdles, they tire, the jockeys
are heavier - of course they are going to fall

LEIGH WOODGATE: I have never ridden a horse that doesn't want to jump. It doesn't want to jump, it
won't jump.

VAL WOODGATE, MOTHER: When she decided to take it up or jumps racing, Grub was horrified. He just
said, "You'll kill yourself".

LEIGH WOODGATE: Dad was horrified, a bit. I never took much notice; I thought I was invincible.

BRYAN MARTIN, RACING COMMENTATOR: It was rare for a female to be riding over the jumps. Racing's
always looking for a star, whether it be equine or human - but being an attractive female, young,
so determined, but having the ability to handle a horse from being a child, she was the perfect
unit. She was watched pretty carefully at the time.

LEIGH WOODGATE: My goal from jumps racing was to win the Grand National in England.

ERIC MUSGROVE, HORSE TRAINER: I was excited once she got going. There's only a certain amount of
riders, there's only a certain... a handful that really have that sort of talent, and she had
enormous talent.

LEIGH WOODGATE: The first race I rode in I was lucky enough to win it. And I thought, how easy is
this money, how long has this been going on?

BRYAN MARTIN, RACING COMMENTATOR: First ride, win. Second ride, win. Third ride, win. How good's

LEIGH WOODGATE: On the 1st July 1994 was my 9th race ride. I had to have ten rides to ride in the

ERIC MUSGROVE, HORSE TRAINER: We were actually going to Hamilton where Leigh was on a horse called
Winter Coal, which she had won on previously.

VAL WOODWARD, MOTHER: The race I did watch on telly... I think I was in the pub. I think we went
over to the pub and watched over there.

LEIGH WOODGATE: Down there it's always raining, so the ground would have been quite heavy.

ERIC MUSGROVE, HORSE TRAINER: He had top weight at the time, which I think was 71.5; the track was
fairly heavy. He jumped faultlessly throughout...

BRYAN MARTIN, RACING COMMENTATOR: She was up near the lead and it wasn't far from home.

LEIGH WOODGATE: And he tired, and I can remember taking off and going over, and then he buckled on
landing and I fell off. I've never seen the footage my race fall, but I know I went head first into
the ground

VAL WOODWARD, MOTHER: And for her to be thrown over the other side of the fence and then for the
horses to gallop over, and that's... see, the jockeys behind couldn't see it, and I think that's
when they galloped on top of her.

BRYAN MARTIN, RACING COMMENTATOR: And I still see it. It was terribly graphic and disturbing, but
her body actually lifted off the ground as the horse collected her - she was lifted probably one
and a half feet or something off the ground and then dumped again, so when you watched it you
thought, well it's impossible for her to survive that. The horse that Leigh came off, Winter Coal,
escaped injury.

ERIC MUSGROVE, HORSE TRAINER: Leigh was unconscious, so then she was airlifted to Melbourne.

VAL WOODWARD, MOTHER: It was sickening more than anything. Nobody knew whether she was going to
live or die, or what the outcome would be. And I just came home and I left a note for Grub, and I
said, "I'm off to Melbourne - I'm on my way to Melbourne, Leigh's had a terrible accident".

LEIGH WOODGATE: Being in a coma was like I was underwater. It was like that I was being sucked
down. Every single cell in my body was screaming out for breath, and my brain couldn't tell my body
how to breathe, and I felt like I was drowning. I was being sucked down into a deep dark hole.

DR BARRY RAWICKI, REHABILITATION SPECIALIST: By objective criteria she suffered a very severe brain
injury. Given the sort of injury that Leigh had and looking at the scans and looking at the
unconsciousness, there was a prospect that she wouldn't survive the injury.

VAL WOODGATE, MOTHER: I was a mess when it happened, a complete mess - because hearing a
neurosurgeon say to you, "There isn't much hope, and if she does come out of the coma she's likely
to be a vegetable."

LEIGH WOODGATE: It wasn't until I relaxed, it wasn't until I stopped fighting that I was then able
to breathe. When that breath came, I thought, now I'm going to survive. My injuries were: coma, 17
days; broke both shoulders; punctured both lungs; broke my jaw in four places; bottom teeth wired
in; five ribs; my left hip; my third optic nerve in my eye died.

ERIC MUSGROVE, HORSE TRAINER: How can you feel? Like, disastrous. It was tragic. You see someone
that's so full of life, and bubbly... that loved life so much, and for that to happen to them, you
know, it's just... your heart sinks to your feet.

VAL WOODWARD, MOTHER: Grub didn't come down with me initially when I first went down there ,but
later on he did come down and he took one look at Leigh, and he just said, "She's buggered, she'll
never be any good."

LEIGH WOODGATE: I was the apple of his eye, and all his dreams came shattering around him the night
of the accident. He said, "You were my favourite, Leigh, 'til the accident. Now you're the biggest
disappointment in my life." He said, "I was the one to make you who you are." He said, "Your life
is finished", he said, "It is over." That drove me to work even harder, to get as good as I can
get. I think now - the way I had to think so that I didn't get bitter because bitterness would eat
me up - I had to think, how lucky am I to have this accident happen to me? How lucky am I to have
everything taken away, and to have had to work on absolutely everything.

VAL WOODWARD, MOTHER: She had to learn to talk, she had to learn to eat, wash her face, clean her
teeth, blow her nose, just everything.

LEIGH WOODGATE: Eric came into the hospital to see me and, I said to Eric, I said, "Eric," I said,
"if I get a clearance to ride," I said, "will you give me the chance to get back to riding?" He
said, "Yes Leigh, I will," thinking he would never have to do it.

ERIC MUSGROVE, HORSE TRAINER: At this stage she was just getting into a wheelchair. She hadn't
virtually got much more than sitting up in bed, and she said, "Eric you know she said I'm
definitely going to get back." She said, "I just hope you'll give me a go," she said. "This is
not... this is only a setback," and she said, "Now won't you Eric, won't you Eric?" And I'm
thinking, I couldn't believe the determination, and I thought well all I can do is humour her, so I
say, "Yes Leigh I'll definitely give you a go," but in my own heart, you know, I never thought that
she would be able to ride again.

LEIGH WOODGATE: I had to look at my body as a broken object. I was in hospital for six months as an
in-patient, then mum lived with me for a year to teach me how to become independent, and then I
bought a house, and she said, "You're on your own." I had to learn how to like myself again,
because when I looked at myself in the mirror I hated the person I was... my mouth was twisted and
my left eye was closed shut ,and I had to learn how to like that person again. And I had to put in
all that hard work to change myself to a person that I would like.

VAL WOODWARD, MOTHER: She says her life is in Melbourne. She's dedicated to her therapy that she
does, and she's quite determined that she's going to be 100 per cent in her own mind.

LEIGH WOODGATE: I'd set my alarm for two o'clock in the morning. I'd stretch for half an hour, I'd
go back to bed and I'd get up at 4 o'clock in the morning. I'd then stretch for 15 mins, then I
would go back to bed, and I'd get up at 5.30, and I'd be ready to go down to the gym at quarter
past six to start work, because it was 24 hours a day Dad never believed that I would get back to
100 per cent, but as the years went by he could see the hard work that I put in. He was very proud
of me, he believed I could get back to normality. Now I'm like the million dollar girl because of
all the operations I've had, and all the different treatments I have tried.

DR BARRY RAWICKI, REHABILITATION SPECIALIST: Making the decision to allow Leigh to get back into
the horse work was pretty complex, because there were certain risks and if she'd had another fall
or injured herself, then I would have felt terrible. We ultimately agreed each small step was going
to be monitored and approved, and Leigh was prepared to take the risks, and I guess we have to
accept that - and happily accept it because that's what she wanted to do.

ANDY ROUGET, RIDING FOR THE DISABLED COACH: I think Leigh is determined to get to back to where she
was before her accident, but also horses are... it's a lifestyle, and she was a professional. She
breathed, she slept, she ate horses, and most of us in the horse industry are like that, and Leigh
just wants to be back with her horses.

DAVID CHARLES, FMR RACING VICTORIA, JOCKEY WELFARE: I had a call from Leigh Woodgate and she was
looking for some support from the racing industry to try and achieve her goals of, you know,
getting to the point where she could ride a horse, you know, on a track, as part of her rehab.

LEIGH WOODGATE: Four times a day I would call David Charles. He would get very, very sick of me and
he said, "Leigh, what do you want to do? What do you want to do?" I said, "I want to ride track
work! He said, "What!?"

DAVID CHARLES, FMR RACING VICTORIA, JOCKEY WELFARE: She drove me nuts in a good way, but I knew,
spending time with her, that that was what she needed. And it got to the point where we could
confidently ring Eric, and his first answer was "Yes".

ERIC MUSGROVE, HORSE TRAINER: I was very dubious and we just made sure we had something very safe -
the last thing we wanted was anything to go wrong.

DAVID CHARLES, FMR RACING VICTORIA, JOCKEY WELFARE: Finally, at that day when we drove up to Eric
Musgrove's, I mean, everyone was very nervous because we were hoping it was going to go well, and,
you know, it was very emotional for everyone.

ANDY ROUGET, RIDING FOR THE DISABLED COACH: I think the first thing, when you see Leigh walking
towards you, if you think, "How is she going to get on that horse?" She does have a very different
gait through her injuries. You look at Leigh and you think, "How are you going to have the strength
to stand on one leg" - and remember it's her left side that is the damaged side - "you've got to
get that up into the stirrup and swing your right leg over. How are you going to do it?"

ERIC MUSGROVE, HORSE TRAINER: The feel you never lose. It's just a natural thing. She got on the
horse and rode straight away.

LEIGH WOODGATE: Riding track work first thing in the morning when the sun's coming up... there is
only you and the horse and you're in sync with one another. There's no better feeling

DR BARRY RAWICKI, REHABILITATION SPECIALIST: I guess over the years she's appreciated that she's
not as young as she used to be, and racing is not going to be an option for her, but riding was
always her goal and, it's just been fantastic that she's been able to achieve that goal - even
though it took I guess 15 or 16 years from the time of the injury to when she actually got back to
a reasonable level of riding.

PETER SANDY, FAMILY FRIEND: Grub'd be terrible bloody proud of her now if he was still about with
what she's achieved. He might have had to eat his words.

VAL WOODWARD, MOTHER: She still thinks of Buchan as home - even though she lives in Melbourne, she
still thinks of it as home.

LEIGH WOODGATE: Dad died of cancer nine years ago, and I went into the hospital and Mum said she
said, "Leigh tell him anything you want to tell him," and I said, "Dad, you were the one to make me
the person who I am today." I said, "Thank you." I said, "I love you," and I said, "I promise to
look after the family." And then he passed away. Peter Sandy is like a brother to me; he's always
been a huge part of my life. I'd been riding track work for a few years now, and I rang Peter up
and I said, "I'm ready to go over a jump." He said, "Oh yes". And I said, You're not scared are
you, Pete?" and he said, "No!" he said, "Are you?" And I said, "No!"

PETER SANDY, FAMILY FRIEND: You'd sort of be tip-toeing around her and thinking in the back of your
mind, god she'll come off and do something serious and hurt herself again. That's what she wants to
do, that's all she lives for, so you've got to give her the opportunity so you've got to give her
the opportunity.

BRYAN MARTIN, RACING COMMENTATOR: It wouldn't surprise me that Leigh would want to get a horse over
an obstacle again, it wouldn't shock me... with her determination, I suppose it's trying to pick up
where you left off

LEIGH WOODGATE: They've said, "Leigh, you're stupid, you're mad, you're crazy, why would you want
to do that?" To reach goals, you've got to be able to look in the mirror and face your biggest
fears. It's taken 18 years to get to this point of going over a jump, and it feels absolutely
fantastic. I've reached the goal that I've set out to do. The whole world is opening up for me now.

BRYAN MARTIN, RACING COMMENTATOR: If you want to put your money on anyone to get back to where she
almost was before, you'd put your money on Leigh Woodgate. She's an inspiration in a very, very
tough world - you know, a hard school of knocks racing is. No quarter's given, there's no free
kicks, but the world of racing admires everything that Leigh Woodgate has done, and to where she is
now and to where she's going to be in the future.

LEIGH WOODGATE: Now I just enjoy living life. Living life and knowing, at the end of each day, when
I put my head on the pillow, that I've given it my very best shot and I haven't left a stone


Leigh Woodgate says she received enough workers' compensation to buy her house in the suburbs.

She also receives a living allowance and cover for medical expenses.

Next month she'll undergo another operation, this time on her ankle.