April 12

Fernrigg Farm: Boutique Thoroughbred Stud in the Hunter Valley


Rae-Louise Kelly is forging ahead as a woman in the thoroughbred industry, proving that success is possible in the sale ring and on the racetrack. 

The Hunter Valley is home to the highest concentration of thoroughbred studs in Australia, with farms across the region producing half of the thoroughbreds born in Australia each year. It is renowned for producing top racehorses who go on to have national and international success. Establishing yourself in the thoroughbred industry, in the Hunter Valley takes guts, determination and dedication. To position yourself as a leading force in thoroughbred breeding, showing success on and off the racetrack, is nothing short of a miracle. Yet Fernrigg Farm have proved it is all possible and more. Better yet, Fernrigg Farm are invested in women paving the way in the racing industry. 


Rae-Louise Kelly grew up in the equine industry in the north of England. From a young age she was heavily involved in show jumping and supported in this venture by her grandfather who had, at one time, ridden national hunt horses himself. Because of this Rae-Louise felt drawn to the racing industry. She recalls that at that time the racing industry felt elusive and was an industry that you didn’t get into unless you pursued it yourself. 


Rae-Louise would go on to pursue a career in racing spanning the globe, from Newmarket to Kentucky and eventually to Australia. What was meant to be a six-month stint at the sales in Australia, turned into a permanent home for Rae-Louise when she met her husband Padraig at those very sales. She would go on to take a position at Widden Stud (NSW), quickly rising to Yearling Manager, a position she would hold for the following five years. 

Future race runners, thoroughbreds produced at Fernrigg Farn
Future race runners, thoroughbreds bred at Fernrigg Farm

Whilst at Widden Stud, Rae-Louise utilised the skills she had developed during her time in Kentucky, to adapt and refine their yearling preparation process. It was during her time at Widden that Rae-Louise and Padraig would pinhook their first yearlings together. Pinhooking is the process of buying a weanling, retaining them for the next six to seven months and selling them on as yearlings. Rae-Louise and Padraig were a perfect match in this enterprise, with Rae-Louise's expertise around yearling preparation and Padraig’s veterinary skills, perfect for selecting yearlings based on their confirmation and suitability for racing. They were a match destined for success. 


And success was to come their way. In 2016, they went on to purchase Fernrigg Farm, an 80-acre plot on the Hunter River between Muswellbrook and Denman. Formally Wexford Farm, the property came with quite the reputation for rearing group one winners, but this did not guarantee a successful start for the pair. As a young couple, and a business led by a woman, they were faced with some scepticism around the longevity of their business, which they soon dissipated with outstanding results in the sale ring and on the racetrack. 


The first group of graduates at Fernrigg Farm produced a group one winner racing in Hong Kong, which was a massive win for the farm which engaged the international marketing for the Fernrigg brand. From there they pinhooked Krone, a mare who went on to have huge success on the racetrack, earning $1.4m over the course of her career. Add to that a Magic Millions race winner in 2021 in the form of Shaquero, who was sold by Fernrigg Farm just a year earlier. Each year proves more and more fruitful for the farm, building upon their success and furthering trust in their brand. 

In 2022, they surpassed a goal not even they could foresee with the sale of their first million-dollar colt through the Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale. The Exceed and Excel colt entered the sale ring with a reserve price of $300,000 which he flew past, the hammer dropping at a whopping $1.2m. A phenomenal result for the farm. That same colt would go on to race successfully, being pipped at the post in his first big 2-year-old race of the year. Most million-dollar horses never make it to the racetrack so for him to do so was further evidence that Fernrigg Farm was here to produce winners. 


In 2023, Fernrigg Farm expanded their operations, purchasing a 300-acre lucerne farm in the Denman area. Here, Rae-Louise and Pudraig set about establishing a specialist breeding facility, complete with a foaling unit. The new farm is home to 60 of Fernrigg Farm’s broodmares and accommodates additional outside mares in the foaling season. The paddocks at the new farm are larger than those at Fernrigg, which are set up for yearlings and are smaller in size to limit the potential for injury. Mares have the space to move around comfortably and get the specialist care and attention they need. When it is time for weaning, the mares and their foals are moved over to Fernrigg Farm where the foals are placed into the stables for the first time. After 24 hours the mares are returned to the breeding centre once again. 


The foals will then spend a whole week in the stables, with an intensive handling course in front of them. They will have rugs taken on and off, their feet picked out and practice being led, all in readiness for their upcoming sales preparation. The beauty of a boutique set up such as Fernrigg Farm is that it’s not a factory process as some large farms can become; they are not held to strict deadlines or huge numbers of weanlings and yearlings across the barns. If a weanling needs a little more time to settle, they can remain in the stables for handling a little longer. There are round yards for weanlings and yearlings that might need the extra work, or the team might pop side reins on if they are required to. Each preparation is tailored to the horse’s needs to make sure they are physically and mentally prepared for their intended sale. 


It is a mentally tough game for the yearlings moving on to the sale ring and for the owners and breeders presenting them at those sales. No more mental toughness is required than that of a woman in racing. Despite huge strides being made by industry greats, such as Gai Waterhouse, and the introduction of incentives for women in racing, Rae-Louise still recounts numerous instances where being a woman in the racing industry didn’t always work in her favour. 


This was never more evident than when Rae-Louise was pregnant with her first child. There seemed to be the immediate assumption that life at Fernrigg Farm would change now that Rae-Louise was expecting a baby and that she would slow down. When in fact, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. Just 24 hours before going into labour, Rae-Louise was out completing her usual feed run of all the horses at Fernrigg Farm. Just a week after giving birth, Rae-Louise was back at work on the farm, taking her newborn baby girl with her. By the time she was eight months old she had been to ten sales. When it was time for her younger sister to make an appearance, she too slipped into the daily routine at Fernrigg like an old hand. 


Rae-Louise takes a commanding and hands-on approach to all aspects of her business. At the time of completing this interview she was juggling taking yearling photos (which had been put off due to a run of wet weather), catching the attention of each yearling by rattling a kid’s toy, talking to us, managing a team on deck at Fernrigg and keeping her young girls occupied at the same time. She is forging her way forward as a woman in racing and leaning into her brand by representing her team in pink. At any given sale you can easily pick out a Fernrigg Farm team member by their bright pink shirts or spot a Fernrigg jockey on the track by their hot pink silks. For Rae-Louise, it was girl-power from day one and she shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. 


If you would like to know more about Fernrigg Farm, you can visit them online at fernriggfarm.com/

Fernrigg Farm is supported by Pursehouse Rural Muswellbrook, contact Pursehouse Rural Muswellbrook today via www.pursehouserural.com.au/locations/nsw/muswellbrook/


Agriculture, Hunter Valley, NSW, Publication, Pursehouse Rural, Seasonal

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