During the Triple Crown season I’m always reflective of my horsey days. I fell in love with the idea of becoming a jockey while attending the 1976 Kentucky Derby. Our seats were right up against the track, and I remember almost being able to touch Bold Forbes as he walked by us in the Post Parade. I could have sworn we made human to horse eye contact. I had my Dad put a $2.00 bet on him, and to my delight, he won! That was the moment my obsession began (as you can see, I’m riding my pony like he’s a race-horse). But it wasn’t until we moved to Maryland in 1983 that I got a chance to pursue my jockey-ing dream. It was a wild ride, but one I wouldn’t change even a second of. So you parents with kids who have non-conforming dreams, read up as you may find this helpful.
Tenacity and Hard Work
When we moved here I was 17 and had never ridden an actual race horse. I found a racing farm in the area and asked the trainer if I could work there. I started out mucking stalls, grooming and walking horses after their workouts, feeding them and doing any menial barn task that needed to be done. Not long after that, the trainer started to let me ride. Within a year, I was a licensed exercise rider at Pimlico and Laurel racetracks.
You know that saying “you’ve got to get back on the horse,” I actually lived it. I think I got run off with or thrown off almost as much as I stayed on. I even earned the nickname Crash from my little adventures. One day at Timonium my horse reared up, almost flipping over and I fell off. On the way back to the stable a trainer said to me, “You have more heart than anyone I’ve seen.” Pretty sure what he was really saying was, “You fall off more than anyone I’ve seen, but at least you keep getting back up.”
I learned to ask for help
In my riding days I was too proud to ask for help. I thought it was a sign of weakness. But when one is being run off with by a 1000 pound speeding muscle machine, one should ask for help, or one could die. I’ve since learned asking for help is a strength.
I learned to stand up for myself
One day, barely into my new riding experience at the farm, I exercised a horse too fast. As I came off the track, a guy who worked there called me a dumb broad. My heart was beating a mile a minute because I was embarrassed, but I looked him in the eye and told him to, “shut the F up.” He didn’t say a word back and pretty much didn’t speak to me from then on out. No loss there. And as in most sports, there’s definitely a seedy side to the track. I quickly learned who to stay away from and how to say NO THANKS.
There are angels among us
My angel was Skeet. He was a seasoned and respected exercise rider around the tracks. I think he spotted my desire to learn, so he took me under his wings and taught me a lot about riding and who to avoid. In other words, he taught me how to be track-smart. Skeet always had my back. He even bought me my 1st pair of official exercising boots. That gesture was extremely special to me. You never know where your angels may pop up, but they’re out there, so pay attention.
Your dreams may not go as planned, but that’s ok
After about a year and a half, I discovered racing was no longer my dream. I have no doubt I could have become a jockey, maybe even a decent one, but something told me to move on. I’m eternally grateful my parents gave me the freedom to pursue my dream/obsession, as it shaped me into the woman I am today. And in my current life, whenever I need a little extra strength or courage, it’s reassuring to know I can always summon my inner-Crash.