Update from Roberta MacLeod (Class of 1987)
Posted on August 30, 2023
Roberta MacLeod (1987)
Horse trainer, adventurer and Associate Lecturer
Roberta MacLeod has been around horses for as long as she can remember – and she’s turned this life-long equine enthusiasm into a successful career. But success in life is more than just pursuing one’s passions. It’s also about resilience – finding the strength to bounce back from life’s hurdles; and it’s about reinvention – finding the courage to try new things when the old things aren’t working. Roberta knows all about it.
Charles Rawlings-Way | Assistant – Alumni Content
When I first left Friends’ School as a young person, trying to make my way, I immersed myself in horse riding. I was riding show jumpers and not going very well. Home life was a big struggle, too, with my parents having their own issues. So, when the chance came to move to Victoria and ride horses with Chris Smith, I took it.
Chris was a very well respected show jumper and a good mentor, but after two years it was clear that my future here was limited. A new career was needed – so I tried my hand with racehorses. As my passion for this grew, I applied to be a racehorse trainer myself. I was still quite young and had to prove that I was worthy, and had enough talent (and funds) to succeed in the industry.
Finding inner strength
The next few years went by in a flash! Training a few Melbourne metro winners was a big part of that. I had some fun, got married, had two amazing children…then got divorced.
After a little while I remarried and enjoyed a few happy years, until my husband drowned in an accident. This was a major turning point in my life. After a year I gave up training horses – the enjoyment had gone for me. So I started travelling, finding work doing anything that came my way.
Part of my travelling was looking for places where I could grow, personally. I went to Tibet and travelled with the nomads there for a while. Living in such a basic form was something I really needed – and I learned so much about my inner strength.
“Part of my travelling was looking for places where I could grow, personally. I went to Tibet and travelled with the nomads there for a while. Living in such a basic form was something I really needed – and I learned so much about my inner strength.“
On the road again
When I returned home, I had the desire to see and learn more about other cultures. As soon as I could, I was on a plane to Mongolia. I travelled with a very different culture and people – and once again, this experience brought more to my world. The following year (2017) I rode in the Mongol Derby – a 1000km race across the Mongolian steppe, and the longest horse race in the world. I could talk all day about what it took to prepare for the race, the challenges of riding, and the aftereffects, which were huge! Riding the Derby had a major effect on the way I looked at my life – and to this day, I would do it again.
I had fallen in love with Mongolia. The next year I returned to ride reindeers and live with their nomadic carers – amazing. The following year I was back again, learning to hunt with eagles, and living with Russian and US biologists to help find and tag snow leopards. I realised how cold living in a ‘ger’ (traditional Mongolian tent) at minus 25°C can be!
Being able to ride horses has been a great advantage: beyond Mongolia, I’ve ridden in Russia, Jordan, Botswana, Scotland, South Africa and Argentina, where I was a part of the first Gaucho Derby in 2020. That was tough… Another long story!
Horses for courses
Of course, to fund my travels I’ve had to be a little adventurous myself. I renovated and sold a couple of houses and retrained as a myotherapist – which was handy through COVID-19.
When COVID hit, I was in Argentina. I got home without too much hassle, but like most people, I had to adapt to the new norm – I had to search for what was going to be mine. I worked as a myotherapist, discovered that I didn’t like it, and tried a few other things… Eventually, I came back to my passions – dogs and horses. So, I got my horse trainers licence back, and started breeding Border Collies.
Then I was offered a position working at a college. And, because I never say no and like new challenges, I gave it a go. So now I am an Associate Lecturer at Marcus Oldham College in Geelong. I really enjoy working with young people and hopefully having a positive impact on their future in the equine industry.
“When COVID hit, I was in Argentina. I got home without too much hassle, but like most people, I had to adapt to the new norm – I had to search for what was going to be mine.”
I still ride trackwork – I only have one horse, but a tribe of seven Border Collies. My kids are now adults and are simply amazing people. I live where I work, enjoy what I do, and am excited to see what doors might open in the future. My next adventure is to fly to southern Argentina and learn how to sail…then sail on a square rigger to Antarctica.
My Friends’ School days are full of memories. From Mr Smith in Physics, saying that the rubbish bin was the second-most important thing in the room (he was the most important); to cooking cake after cake in Home Economics; and a school trip to Central Australia that was very special.
My advice in life is have a go, don’t say no, and all experiences teach you something – both good and bad. The bad ones, more. Stay positive.