Elaine Burns is a female jockey I knew nothing of when I called her up about an interview after seeing her ride at The Wodlands Racetrack in Kansas City, MO. Elaine has been riding over 20 years and here is her story.
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
EB: I was born in Missouri and I also grew up there.
FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up? Were you a tomboy like most of the other female riders I have talked to?
EB: Yeah pretty much.
FOTH: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
EB: I have one brother and one sister.
FOTH: What does your family think about you being a jockey?
EB: They are used to it by now. My sister rides horses too, but not race horses. We had horses while we were growing up.
FOTH: Did you know when you were a young girl that you were going to be a jockey or that is something that happened later on?
EB: It happened at a younger age. I started galloping horses when I was 12 years old at the Missouri State Fairgrounds. There were a couple trainers that stayed there all year training and they didn't have anybody to exercise their horses, so I started exercising at 12.
FOTH: Did it feel very natural getting up on a horse and stuff?
EB: Oh yeah.
FOTH: What event or events actually led to you becoming a jockey?
EB: I was exercising horses and working them and before 16 yrs old they would have riders come in to ride the races and the horses would do much better when I rode them than the regular jockeys so naturally I wanted to start riding the ones that I was working.
FOTH: Tell us what you can remember about your 1st race.
EB: The guy that I rode for was always critical of my riding and I won the race and he was still criticizing the way I rode. That was kinda funny. It was at the Missouri State Fairgrounds.
FOTH: Did you get pelted with stuff after the race?
EB: No I didn't. I don't know why. There wasn't hardly any girl riders back then. This was in 1975. Actually the 1st pari-mutuel race I won was in Colorado in 1976 and they tried to get me there to drown me with water, but they never caught me.
FOTH: I don't know a lot about you, but I now know you have been riding a long time.
EB: I quit riding in 1988 because 2 girls and I didn't want to drag them around the race track while they were growing up. The youngest, who is 18 just went to collage so they are both in collage now and I decided I might as well go back to the track cause I didn't have anybody at home anymore. This is the 1st year I have gone back to the track since 1988.
FOTH: Did you notice this time around you were accepted more and easier being a female rider or was it the same?
EB: This time it is a lot easier cause there is a lot of people that don't mind putting a girl rider on. Before when I rode it was tough I had to prove myself everywhere I went, even if I was a better rider, they were not ready to put my on right away.
FOTH: What are some of the places you have rode at over the years?
EB: I rode in Nebraska, Hastings, Kentucky, I rode mostly quart horses. I rode up in Binghamton, NY. I rode all over Oklahoma before they went pari-mutuel. I ride all the Kansas tracks, Sam Houston, I rode in Colorado, Illinois.
FOTH: I saw you riding at the Woodlands Race Track in Kansas City, MO. Tell us a little about this track.
EB: I came up here because one of the jockeys got hurt and I came up here to ride some stake races and I knew a lot of people here and I decided to stay. I have rode for a lot of people in Missouri and Kansas before and here I could ride both here (she means quarter horses and regular thoroughbred races-chris) I mostly ride quarter horses cause that is what I grew up with, but this year I have also rode quite a few thoroughbreds. When I ride at Blue Ribbon Downs on Fridays, I ride more thoroughbreds than quarter horses and then the rest of the week I am at The Woodlands. I was the leading thoroughbred rider there and I'm 3rd leading rider on the quarter horses here at Woodland. It is kinda odd, I don't know a lot of thoroughbred people up here, but I am meeting a lot of new people and this is the 1st year that I have been back.
FOTH: Was it tough getting into race riding shape for your comeback to the races?
EB: Yeah, it was tough. Actually I was exercising a lot of horses last fall and then in the spring I was still exercising them and they were short jockeys at a track in Kansas and I went up there and one of the guys that I had been exercising for his rider got hurt so he asked me if I could ride for him in that race so in my 1st race back I won and then everybody started calling me after that. That is why I decided I might as well go, I'm in shape. It was hard getting into shape. I hurt all over for like 3 weeks. (we both laugh)
FOTH: If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to become a jockey what advice would you give her?
EB: I would tell her to go for it. It is a tough sport and I would tell her you have to be in shape and work really hard.
FOTH: How much longer would you like to ride for?
EB: I will probably just ride for the next few years. Right now I am going to school and I am trying to finish my bachelor's degree in accounting. I have a few more classes after this fall, so at least I have something to fall back on when I quit riding.
FOTH: Take us through what you do in a typical day?
EB: Right now I am supposed to go to school Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings I am supposed to be going to school, but during the Woodlands meet they are letting me miss the classes and I go to the Kansas City library and email me work in and stuff. I get up to the Woodlands area on Friday night around midnight and I go to the track about 7:30 am in the morning and there is 1 or 2 barns I'll check to make sure they don't want to work a horse because sometimes if they have one to work, they want me to go work it, they have someone to gallop, but if they have one to work, I'll work. I have to be up in the jockey's room by 11:00 am and the races start at 12:00 pm. I usually if I only have 3 or 4 in, I'm stuck in the last race so I don't get out of the room till like 5:00 pm and then I go back to the motel room and maybe go eat or something. I might watch some TV or go to library and do my homework. On Wednesday nights I go back to Oklahoma and usually I have Thursday off. On Friday morning I go to school when I get out at 11:00 am I then I go ride at Blue Ribbon Downs and then come back up to Kansas City on Friday nights.
FOTH: Your a real busy woman.
EB: Yeah, I do lots of traveling.
FOTH: What injuries have you have over the years and what was the worst one?
EB: I have a dislocated ankle, broken ribs, broke a small bone in my right leg. The worst injury was at Los Alamotis, I had a compound fracture of the upper femur. They had to do surgery and put a steel rod in and 18 months later they had to take that out. I have chipped a few bones in my back and cracked my tailbone and things like that.
FOTH: Do you have a proudest moment as a jockey or are there a few things that stick out in your mind as you look back over your career?
EB: In New York I was the 3rd leading rider in and a couple days I had 4 winners. This year I won 4 races out of 4. One was the Kansas Sprint Derby on a longshot. This was at Eureka, Kansas.
FOTH: Any hobbies or things you like to do when you just want to get away from horse racing?
EB: My youngest daughter is a calf roper so I used to go to a lot of her calf roping. Most of the time if I get any free time I just want to stay at home cause I never get any free time. (laughs)
FOTH: Do you think another female can win another Triple Crown Race?
EB: I think most definitely. There is a lot of good female riders out there and I am seeing so many more now before when I quit riding the 1st time. When I rode the 1st time around we would have to go change in an office there wasn't even a girl's jockey room. Everywhere I go there is sometimes 3 or 4 riders at all these tracks where I go and some of them are doing really well.
FOTH: Would you ever want to become a trainer?
EB: When I am done riding I don't think I would want to train as that does not interest me.
FOTH: Do you do anything special to stay in shape?
EB: I usually don't have a problem. If I gain a couple pounds I usually just cut out the soda pop and junk food. I usually eat pretty much whatever I want. I have been riding 6 days a week, so that it is pretty easy to stay in shape.
FOTH: Elaine thanks for the interview. It was great talking to you. Anything you would like to add or say to wrap this up?
EB: No not really.