Like many migrants, Sandeep Bakhli sought 'temporary' employment as a means of survival. Never did he expect to fall in love with his new life tending to horses or that it would open doors to permanent residency.
"I started working with horses in Brisbane and pretty much never left after that," says Sandeep Bakhli.
For the past 12 years, Sandeep has worked in the horse racing industry as a horse strapper and travelling foreman.
Strappers are responsible for the horses in the stables, yards, and on race day. They clean, feed, groom, saddle and prepare the horses for trackwork.
- Sandeep Bakhli is a strapper and travelling foreman who has worked in the Australian horse racing industry for 12 years
- Sandeep came to Australia as a student from India in 2009
- He worked with the Payne family, including Michelle Payne, who became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup in 2015
Sandeep arrived in Australia in 2009 seeking greener pastures. He was a bakery student, and though he had never ridden a horse before, it was a matter of accepting whatever fell into his hands.
His first job was working for horse trainer Kelly Schweida in Brisbane, where he learnt the ins and outs of the trade.
"I belonged to a village back in India and absolutely loved this new job that offered me insight into rural life in Australia," says Sandeep.
"After two years, I moved to Melbourne where I got a job at Godolphin stables, but destiny had something else planned for me.
"Instead, I ended up working in Plumpton farm for the famous Payne family, and that's where the story really began," he says.
The Payne family is well-known in horse racing circles. Paddy and Mary Payne had 10 children, with eight becoming jockeys and another two working in the racing industry.
Michelle Payne won the 2015 Melbourne Cup and is the first and only female jockey to win the race.
"On my first day at the job, I did everything in a few hours, and when the Paynes saw my work, they were quite impressed," he remembers.
"I was up every morning, taking care of horses in the paddock, saddling, taking them for walks.
"I worked like this for five years before I took the license of travelling foreman," he recalls.
As a travelling foreman, Sandeep's responsibilities include transporting the horses and driving them to races.
It's an absolute honour to be associated with the Payne family
Sandeep says that horse racing is hardly heard of as a work opportunity within the Punjabi community. When he applied for permanent residency through his certificate 4 in racing, he highly doubted his chances.
"But I got the work visa within four working days of application and permanent status after two years," he shares.
"When I started working in the racing industry, I hardly met anyone from the Indian subcontinent but now many guys from the community are working with racing horses," he says.
Sandeep, who now also owns horses, says that nurturing and raising horses demands long hours, but you learn new things each day.
A special bond with horses
"With so many hours spent together, it is no wonder the strapper and horse form such a strong relationship," says Sandeep.
"I shared an incredible bond with the horse named Chamois Road. He was the perfect travelling companion. Every weekend we used to go together to Adelaide for racing," he reminisces.
Another horse he cannot forget is Widgee Turf, a recently-retired gelding with whom he shares an 'unshakeable' bond.
"He was brilliant on the tracks. Bought for just $4,000, he fetched 1.2 million [in prize money].
"A horse is the best mate that doesn't let you turn old; it keeps you fit and alert," says Sandeep.
Strappers and stable workers love horses a lot and these feelings can't be described in words
According to Sandeep, once you fall in love with horses, there is no turning back. That would be like leaving your community or family.
"It is a blessing to live in this lovely community, and one should be open to new opportunities to make the best of life in Australia, " he says.
Click on the player above to listen to the interview with Sandeep Bakhli in Punjabi.