Liz Lundberg is
a jockey who is currently riding at Mountaineer Park and we contacted her for
an interview and here is a great long interview with her. Sit back and enjoy!
Liz hits the wire in front at Thistledown
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
LL: I was born
in New York City at Mt Sinai Hospital, on Dec. 23, 1958. I lived in the Bronx
'till I was nine. We moved to Philadelphia and I lived there 'till I graduated,
and since then I've lived all over. One thing I've always loved about the horse
business is that there are few geographic boundaries you cannot cross. As long
as you can wield a brush or sit in a saddle, you can go anywhere and learn about
anything that has to do with horses.
My dad was a teacher at a private
school. It wasn't so long ago, but at the time his salary was less than ten
K a year in the Bronx working at Fieldston School, and later at Germantown Friends
School, in Philadelphia. We all got the wealthy man's education for free. I
didn't finish college right away, but I'm proud to say that when I did I paid
for it all, and did so with money I earned in the horse industry.
We had very little money, but we had the best that two very resourceful
& intelligent parents can bring to their four kids (two boys, two girls.)
Mom & dad insisted to me that horses were for rich people. I needed to stay
away from them because they were not going to make me secure in life. To their
credit, they were looking out for my best interests, but I think dreams had
the strongest influence on me. You can make a very good living in the horse
business; they just didn't know it.
I didn't get very many opportunities to ride, although some of my school
friends had lessons, and/or went to horse shows and/or had their own horses.
When I reached the age where you experience EVERYTHING full blast, (thirteen
to seventeen) I realized that the only suitable persona for a girl who wore
only blue jeans, with no makeup or fancy clothes was either horse girl or hippie.
Sports were well funded in my school but I was a bit of a loner and they were
not a consuming passion for me. I was not from the same social strata that most
of the girls in my high school were, and I failed to create strong bonds among
my teammates. I thought I wasn’t good enough.
I began withdrawing and giving up on my schoolwork. When my parents realized
I was feeling hopeless and was filled with self-hate, a lot of damage had already
been done. They saved my life by helping me get back on track through Horsemanship
School. I have something very important to say about this: If you want your
kid to be a doctor and your kid wants to be a Baptist minister, send your kid
to Baptist ministry school. Your kid might become the greatest Baptist Minister
in the world. They might change the course of history, as Martin Luther did
by creating Protestantism. Or they might later have curiosity out of their system,
and choose on their own to be a Doctor.
Support is the greatest guidance
there is: I take responsibility
for choosing to punish my parents for ‘a failure to support and believe in me’
by not believing in myself. The result I got was twenty – five years of clinical
depression. Nonetheless, having faith in your kid will surely help them avoid
that kind of outcome.
FOTH: Do you have any brothers or sisters? Are you close with your parents?
LL: I have two older brothers. They both live in Vermont. Tim is the closest
to me, at two years older, and Chris is four years older. Tim lost his job after
Clinton left office and the bottom fell out of everything. His avocation
is high- velocity heavy metal Rock & Roll. He's been playing guitar since
he was ten and is quite good at it. I wish he’d just go be a Musician. Chris
has been from Singapore to Germany to India teaching folks how to program their
computers to create circuit boards or something. He's white-collar working class.
I don't think he's real happy about it, but he's smart enough to get by, and
has a great wife named Louise who he waited till he was forty-one or two to
discover. I'm glad he waited. He’s a southpaw and should have pursued his dream
of being a pitcher. He looks a little like Randy Johnson.
My twp older brothers are 80% of the reason I wound up a jock on account
of the survival skills I had to learn in order to function as a viable member
of the family. For seven years I was the only girl. As far as they were concerned,
there was no room for girls. I am older now but that tomboyishness is here to
stay. As much as I adore men, I'm not very feminine until I'm behind the walls
of my own home.
My sister, Melissa, is my mother's
compensation for having to put up with me first. Melissa was the first to get
Married and the only one to give my parents grandchildren. She had to endure
my cruel and thoughtless sibling - ship. Somehow, even though I was the worst,
most unthankful and ungracious sister a littlest daughter could have, if I needed
her now she'd be there. She is a class act.
Mom & dad were horrified
at my being a jockey because it’s dangerous. But they were proud of my successes.
Now that I am retired, they are relieved.
The bottom line about them is that they were supportive and always willing
to grow. My mom used to go off her rocker when us kids took wrong turns; now
she is simply there to help us steer around them. She is the most nonjudgmental
person I know.
We were raised with high moral and ethical standards. They expect me to
take responsibility for myself and my actions; no excuses, and they love me
My Dad taught us that if you can read a book you can do anything on earth.
That's how I learned how to ride for years. I read all about it. I read about
tack, Stabling, feeding, grooming, showing, diseases, lameness-heck, with all
of the Latin I learned from Veterinary Notes for Horse Owners, By M.
Horace Hayes, FRCVS, I should have been able to pass Latin in Eighth grade,
(I hooked too many Latin classes, and didn't do my homework.)
My dad found the best locations to live, made the tables we ate at and the
beds we slept in. After he retired from teaching he built his own solar and
wind powered house in western NY State. He gave me the uninhibited desire to
try anything, which got me as far as I've gotten, even with a case of depression.
He's a DUDE & a HALF, my dad.
FOTH: What sort of kid were you growing up? Did you know you waned to
be a jockey when you were younger?
LL: I remember our location at 5618 Mosholu Ave in the Bronx. It was right
up the street from Van Cortlandt Park, where the horse and pony rides were.
One year, when I was eight, I got my wish of a single horseback-riding lesson,
which cost eight dollars. I was six or seven, so that was probably 1964, '65.
It was good, and I learned about posting, which was cool. To that point I had
not read much about Riding, and didn't know what ‘posting’ was. The drawback
was that the Coach never let go of his pony rope. I could
never go around, not even once in the whole half hour, by myself. The coach
kept saying to me "see, you don't know how to ride, and the horse knows
it." That angered me, but
I'm well aware now of the fact that horses don't just carry you around in a
respectable fashion. If you don't control them, they A) Reach for available
grass, B) Run around or buck until you fall off, C) Stand in one place until
you give up trying to make them go (a favorite even w/some racehorses) or take
you back to the barn (sometimes in a great hurry) I thought if the coach would
just let me go, I'd ride off into the sunset.
It was December, and there was snow on the ground. It was cold. I hate cold
now but I never even noticed it then. My dad most recently related to me that
when the lesson was over he asked me if it was enough and I said no. So he paid
for a second one, and I spent a whole hour in the saddle that day.
The following years I opted
for six consecutive pony rides. In those days, they just strapped you into a
western saddle with some latigo, smacked the pony in the ass, and trotted through
a circular course bounded by post & rail fence on either side. You had a
choice of fast or slow, and I never chose slow from the time I was actually
permitted a choice. After that I never sat on a true horse and learned to ride
until I was twelve, and we went to a summer camp where they had horses and my
dad was Program Director. At the end of the eight-week session, I was awarded
the “Most Improved” award from the horseback riding coaches. I still have a
picture of me jumping a fence w/ a retired steeplechaser (It's about a foot
high, the fence!)
Once, in about 1964, (I was
six) I saw horse races on TV from Belmont, I think. I saw the Twelve horse prancing
in the post parade and picked him to win. Amazing what the heart draws from
the mind, isn't it? He won, and I thought that was a sign, even back then. I
really wanted to do that, and I've never forgotten that. I don't know why they
had races on TV that day. Of course, racing was way more popular in those days,
so maybe it was some races folks really wanted to see.
My Grandpa loved the horse races. He used to go from time to time, but he
never took me. I was too little, and anyway I was a girl. He died at age 70,
in 1969, and the older I get the sadder I am about that; he of all people would
have understood the lure of the racetrack. I officially believe him to be my
Guardian angel; I should have lost my life a few times (many of us riders know
this.) So I get to keep him with me always, in that way.
Another memory I have that
never fades is that of writing to ALL of the Horse Associations whose addresses
I found in the back of a book called Saddle Up! By Charles E. Ball. The
Jockey Club sent me a packet containing some clippings from the Blood Horse,
including a photo & bio of the well-known Mare Drumtop; one of Tom Fool;
A leaflet describing the three Arab influences, and an article called Information
for Apprentice riders, which made me burn to be a part of Racing.
Even now I think it's pretty
amazing that they sent me the two- page text without considering my obvious
female status. The year was 1970; perhaps two years after Diane Crump broke
the barrier. Even brother Tim said; "There ARE no Girl jockeys. Girls aren't
jockeys." But it was just the right time, I guess, that I believed without
doubt (and without knowledge of Diane Crump) that the requirements were 110
lb. Or less. That's all, folks. Of course getting there w/ my background was
another story entirely. Still, the seed was planted.
FOTH: What event or events led you to be a jockey? How did it feel getting
up on a horse for the first time? Were you nervous at all?
LL: Well, I said that we had the horse and pony rides, so I had been on a horse.
But the first time I really got to ride on my own was at Glaydin School &
Camp in Leesburg VA, where dad was program director the summer after I was in
We were there a week early.
I rode every day with the riding instructors, who were scouting out the trails
in the woods. Posting was a lot different on Spot than it was on old Goldust.
My ass was SORE. The summer wore on and after eight weeks I won an award for
MOST IMPROVED rider. I was so proud. The sprout was sprouting. Still, it seemed
I wasn't going to get to make a living with horses, until that chance to go
to the horsemanship school. That was the biggest positive boost in my life up
till then. I wound up returning the following year with a horse my uncle lent
me, named ‘Rusty.’ Rusty got thirty
days of green-breaking during my
“Senior Project” an opportunity
they gave us in high school to do Independent work in an area of interest.
I still have a documentary film of it. After one year of college, I went
back to the school and spent eight or nine months (seven of which were harrowing
for me, believe it or not) working and learning.
When the job market pointed to the racing industry as the most open door,
it wasn't long before I wound up at a training farm in Ocala, Florida. From
there I went to Finger Lakes Racetrack, which is only 90 miles from where my
parents were (and still are) living, and so on and so forth, through my History
degree at Alfred University, and from state to state, through one boyfriend
after another. Finally after the last time of saying to people 'I like exercising
horses, I'm not ambitious enough to be a rider', I became a rider. The way I
figured it there were people who couldn't even gallop a horse that were riding
races, so how bad could I be for the money? I was thirty-one years old. To my
credit, I wasn’t too bad of a hand. I may not have been young, but by then I
was seasoned on horseback.
Nervous was a normal state for me back then. I take medication now for depression
and may always, though hopefully not. I am neither proud nor ashamed of this
fact, but it happens to be that. Had I done something about my condition sooner,
though, I might have made more ambitious choices in my career and healthier
ones with regard to my personal life.
FOTH: Who helped you out when you were starting to ride? What stuff were
you taught as far as being a jockey goes?
LL: I don’t think I’d put them in a specific order, but of the top of my head,
here are the general- to specific rules I was told to observe when I was starting
out. 1. A horse can run at his best for a quarter of a mile at most, so save
it for the final quarter if he'll let you. 2. If you are on the outside, try
to trap the horse inside of you behind dead horses 3. Never go inside one or
around two. 4. If someone bumps you, bump them back harder. 5. If someone shuts
you off unnecessarily or rudely, be sure to respond in kind at the next possible
opportunity; any politeness will be taken as weakness. 6. Keep an eye on your
horse's ears. 7. Ride past the wire. That's what they pay you for 8. Choose
one mentor and listen to them alone. 9. Don't give away how much you are using
your horse. Try to make people think you're done when you're not. 10. Don't
talk to other jocks, and don't be friends with them. They will cut your throat
and rob you. 11. If you are too far back to justify hitting your horse, spend
the idle time practicing switching your stick from right to left and back.
Of course they are significant, and good to know, but I find that a lot
of the instruction you get is repeated to you hundreds of times, with the journeymen
jocks saying 'the bug (rider) just won't listen.' You are out there trying to
do all of this at the same time, but it won’t look like you are listening until
you get control of the physicality of all of it. Until you can just get around
there without getting tired you won't master the next thing, and on and on.
You just have to try to remember what your mentors tell you and try from there
to concentrate on what you think you can work on right at the moment.
At the same time, bear in mind there is lots of money involved and everyone
is counting on you, so don't screw it up! Don’t be practicing when you’re supposed
to be winning! Sharon Gunther, a journeyman (woman) from Delaware, used to say
to us bug riders: “Ahh, don’t worry, it’s just like the morning, only LOTS MORE
MONEY!” Only when you give up worrying about the money can you reach your highest
potential, I guarantee. I felt as though I was just getting close to that point
when my body decided it no longer wanted to participate full- time.
The two people who most directly influenced me with regard to the rider
I have become have been Jerry Noss, my agent and Significant other until 1999,
and Lanny Kress, retired rider whom I was seeing prior to my relationship w/
Jerry. Lanny told me about a lot of those 'tricks' you try to play, and Jerry
made me execute them, and was an unreasonable taskmaster. I learned the most
from Jerry and I grant him all the credit for thickening my skin, but his coaching
style unfortunately served, along with other difficulties, to destroy the relationship.
FOTH: I read your first race was at one of my favorite tracks, Tampa Bay
Downs. Tell us what you can remember about that first race.
LL: The horse was about 14.2 hands tall, and a first time starter. The trainer
put full cup blinkers on her in the hope that she would break a little more
sharply. This was one of those truly air-headed and untalented horses. I thank
Hank Caballero forever for finding something for me to ride. 2. The horse missed
the break entirely. She didn't leave the gate until the rest of the field fell
into the view she had with that giant pair of blinkers. Usually blinkers help
a horse focus on the front of the gate and keep it from distractions, and it
breaks better. Not her. Her name was “Beene Baby.” 3. At Tampa, bug riders could
ride their first races with a whip, and I happened to have one, so I practiced
a little with it coming up the lane. I have the tape. 4. She was beaten double
digits. 5. After the race my trainer said "she wouldn't have run no better
if Pat Day would've rode her!'" That was nice of him. You can't say anything
bad about Hank around me.
FOTH: Tell us what you remember about your first win. Did you get creamed
with stuff after the race?
LL: Yes, I did. Tom Cooley is the photographer for Tampa and Finger Lakes, and
also develops Mountaineer Park photos. Every time a rider won their first race
he was there to take photos of the initiation. It's on my parents' wall at home.
Tom Cooley is a super person. Mark Zele, the man who I won the race for, I will
never forget. When he brought the horse from Penn National, he said 'get this
horse ready for me. He'll probably be the one you break your maiden on.' Yeah,
right. Well, he finally ran one day and for all of the spunk he showed in the
morning, he didn't try that afternoon. I'll take credit for realizing mid-race
that he was cheating, even with the limited experience I had. I went to whipping
him from the three-eighths pole to the wire, and at least got his attention.
His name was Sinijin. He was
very playful. He would walk on his hind legs all the way from the track to the
barn after his morning gallops, and to me it was like he laughed all the way.
I sure didn't want him laughing after wasting all of our time and effort (and
money) so I planned to be ready for him next time. Anyway, Mark put him back
in a little tougher race, at seven instead of six furlongs, and one step up
in class. He told me just to make sure I got a good five eighths into him so
when we ran him back in the right spot he wouldn't have lack of fitness for
an excuse. He also told me that the rider he had used at Penn (I think David
Appleby rode him) said Sinijin HAD to be close to the pace or he would quit.
(That was enlightening.) In the paddock Mark reminded me to 'ride him like it's
your last paycheck', and I said 'maybe you should bet on him, 'cuz I will.'
Mark had two bucks in his pocket and bought a beer with it. I was so mad at
Sinijin for the last time out I hit him four times leaving the gate, and then
I tapped his right ear with my stick to try to unnerve him. He laid fourth until
the five-sixteenths pole, and then shattered the field as the longest shot on
They claimed two horses behind
him. He paid 98 dollars and I remember thinking as I drove up the stretch: '
I hope Mark doesn't get mad that we won ‘cuz he probably didn't bet." He
could've bought fifty beers with the two dollars he spent at the bar instead
of the window, but Mark was plenty glad just to get the pot money.
So, that was my first win. Dynamite!
FOTH: What tracks have you ridden at and is there any track you would
like to ride at one day.
LL: From north to south, here we go: Northampton, Marshfield and Great Barrington
in Massachusetts; Finger Lakes in New York; Fort Erie and Woodbine in Canada;
Greenwood in Canada; Detroit racecourse (I'm three for five there); Thistledown,
River Downs and Beulah park in Ohio; Philadelphia and Penn National in Pa.;
Garden State and Atlantic City in NJ; Turfway in Kentucky; Mountaineer Park
in West Virginia; Tampa and Gulfstream in Florida. That's all. I don't care
if I go anyplace else. I am so glad I somehow managed to become a rider and
somehow managed to get pretty good at it that I've succeeded beyond my expectations.
I'm proud enough about that.
FOTH: I read you have ridden in over 3000 races. What keeps you motivated
to keep riding and what track are you currently riding at now?
LL: I'm not terribly motivated, truthfully. I like to do too many different
things, and that is, in my opinion, another reason why my career has been relatively
short and uneventful-no big titles, for instance. I think I'm good enough that
if I had had any strategy beyond going where my boyfriend went, or seeing a
new location, or getting out of the cold in the winter time, I'd have gotten
a lot farther. I always said 'I want to be a jockey’ but I never wanted the
dream to swallow up my life. I'm not sad at all about that, but the fact stands
that I have reaped as I have sowed.
Once in a while, I consider coming out or retirement for a spell. But I
have a hard time motivating myself to sit in the Jocks’ Room and wait for my
If I needed to ride, though, I would stay motivated by limiting the amount
of stress over anything I lose. Outfits come and go, horses come and go; the
only thing you can control is how you feel about yourself mentally and physically.
I look back and see where the
company I have kept has cost me trust from people I would have liked to inspire
trust in. I would avoid doing anything that would give the impression that I
am not honest. The long term is always better for those who exhibit integrity
from the very start.
I last rode at mountaineer
Park in WV, and shipped to Thistledown. Before that I rode at Thistle and shipped
to Mountaineer, but I got tired of shipping. So I moved down here. Between getting
injured twice during what would have been my best year EVER (1998) and the inflation
of purses by way of the new Slot Machines here, I lost my lucrative business
from Thistle. The better the money, the more competitive the colony. Now, riders
that at one time wouldn’t waste their time shipping are glad to ship. Now I
just live here and exercise horses.
FOTH: Do you have a favorite horse, favorite trainer and favorite track
you like to ride at?
LL: As I said, horses and outfits come and go. I like too many people and have
too many memories to pick a favorite horse, a favorite person or people. I've
learned things from everyone, horses and people, and I'm simply overjoyed to
say I've been there and done that.
FOTH: Do you feel female jockeys do not get enough respect by certain
trainers and owners and what do you think can be done to change that?
LL: The answer to the first is yes, the answer to the second is time and numbers
of women who become jockeys. Women need to take being athletes seriously. It
doesn't hurt to work out and do aerobics and specific exercises to improve your
strength and stamina and balance. Even baseball players work out, and they spend
most of their time standing around waiting. Especially if you don't get to ride
too many after you lose the bug, better fitness will enable you to exude more
confidence, and you will enjoy riding more.
It doesn't hurt to be awestruck by the beauty and skill of a man on horseback,
either. It diminishes females not at all, so don't get on a loyalty kick where
you put down men and exalt women. I have always tried to copy them. We should
not hesitate at any opportunity to learn anything from them or to let them know
we admire them when we do. Men are so graceful on horseback.
Be willing to face your own shortcomings, and always work to improve. Don't
assume that being female means there are things you cannot change. Sure there
are general differences between females and males in the riding department:
Men as a rule are more commanding, but more heavy handed, so there is an advantage
and a disadvantage for them there. Women are, on the other hand, are often softer
and more sympathetic with their hands, but they sometimes fail to get respect
from an animal for lack of firmness. The point I want to make here is that as
a woman rider I may be subject to certain limitations, but it’s balanced by
the fact that men are subject to other limitations. The game is to push at the
boundaries of your limitations all the time. For example, if horses cheat with
you, take every opportunity to ride in a commanding fashion, by being aware
of the mounts you accept that have to be ridden commandingly. What I cannot
do anything about (directly) is public perception of women as riders. I could
give you more examples, but the above is a commonly repeated observation among
horsemen (and horsewomen.)
The less I worry about proving
myself as a woman and the more I concentrate on being the very best and sharpest
I can be will move myself and the future of women further than any other way
of thinking. If you spend your time crying about the way things are for you,
remember two things: 1. If you're on a runaway horse you need to use your energy
to think of a solution OTHER THAN yanking on the reins and screaming a horrified
WHOA! 2. Only the scale of your imagination limits you to that end, so get creative:
Do you think Julie Krone cared to think about being female, or that Bill
Cosby cared to think about being Black? No. They HAD to but probably would have
been just so happy not to be stuck in that position. Why would people who simply
burn to do what God threw them on the earth to do take the time?
Forget the barriers when you are out there playing the greatest game ever
created for man and beast!! Just play at creating your dream. Create doors opening;
don't quit because you think they should've been open when you reached them;
think of yourself as one of the pioneers! If you are the next woman to win a
classic, consider it icing on the cake. It pales next to the simple joy of being
a jockey for life, a horsewoman and a racetracker! Remember too, all the women
who settled for a smaller piece of the pie than you, just go get to do what
you now take for granted: honor that by loving every minute of it, good or bad.
That's my opinion.
I've experienced a truth that my instructor Ron told us students many years
ago. "Your attitude needs to be; I'm going to be the greatest rider I can
be. If you can't ride, then you say to yourself I'm gonna be the greatest groom
I can be, and if you can't groom any good you say I'm gonna be the best farm
manager I can be, and if you're too stupid to do that your attitude should be;
'I'm gonna be the best farm maintenance person I can be, or the best equine
artist or the best whatever. You'll find your greatest potential thinking like
that.' Ron McLaughlin, my very first ‘instructor’ never spoke to me beneath
an angry yell until I chose to forget about ‘him,’ and ask myself how I want
to remember myself. Then I started to get good at my horsemanship.
You can say bad things about Ron to me, and they'll probably be true, but
he wasn’t out there trying to ruin my life. He wanted me to choose to win in
life no matter what hand I drew. He’s probably a much more mellow person now
than he was back then, but in my mind he will always be an unreasonable taskmaster,
because he’s about being for real in life. Competition is a piece of cake if
you clear that first hurdle. Ron gives clinics around the country still. Horse
handling clinics. He is an excellent horseman and a far- sighted thinker. His
School is now a non- profit. They
have a website. I highly recommend his tutelage.
FOTH: Any other female riders you like or respect?
LL: The one thing all of these women riders have in common is that they were
(and some still are) expert riders. Their professionalism identifies them; it's
inseparable from their personal manner.
These women, as I see it; if they were horses we would say about each
of them; “now THAT'S a racehorse.”
Now that’s admirable!
Lori Wydick, Maureen Andrews, Jane Magrell, Francine Villaneuve (Can.),
Maree Richards (Can.) Michelle Luttrell (Chile), Michelle Harris. Vicki Aragon
(Baze), Diane Nelson. Kendra Taylor, Debbie Barbazon. Tami Purcell, Dody Duys,
among riders I have watched and/ or know. Others; Lillian Kuykendall, Mary Bacon,
Maryannn Alligood, Andrea Seefeldt,
Rosemary Homeister -- stick out
in my memory as real riders -- faithful to their love of the horse and the game.
I have left out many. Special acknowledgement to Julie Krone, for her willingness
to make the sacrifices she had to make to reach the level she did. Being a public
person can be very difficult. Also, alienation is a heavy price that few are
willing to pay, and it's hard to get that good and not alienate any jockey colony
you are in.
I was too young to remember Diane Crump, though she did ride at Tampa not
too long ago. It felt like an honor to be in the same room with her. The Big
Unit, if you ask me, in history of female riders…….. Unbelievable!
FOTH: I read where you plan on retiring soon. What led to this decision?
LL: At this revision, I am now forty – eight and retired. I should be tatting
doilies and knitting my grandkids' pajamas. I'm educated enough that I believe
in living as many careers as you can pack into one lifetime. I'm tired of getting
injured. I'm sick of riding bad horses – the ones they always say “ I thought
of you because this horse needs _______ -- fill in the blank.
I hate the road trips. I am putting together a website right now that
will be informational in nature, about the jockey profession. I hope to make
at least enough money to cover the forty bucks a month it will cost to hang
on the internet, by selling an ebook that shares my experience and insight (for
whatever it’s worth) with other young people who are interested in the jockey
profession. But I’ll probably have to try to sell other products as well. When
it’s ready, I’d like to link to this site and others that are of interest to
aspiring horsemen and horsewomen.
I also write for a publication called Ohio
River Life. We hope to improve and enhance life in our once busy communities
along the river that have since deteriorated due to the loss of a manufacturing
FOTH: What was the biggest race you ever won and biggest race you ever
LL: The Decoration Day Handicap at Mountaineer when it was a twenty-thousand
dollar affair (seventy- five thousand now, and just won by Mo Andrews in 2002)
or the Brecksville Handicap at Thistledown, which was twenty-five thousand.
Not exactly stakes, but that's the best I can do. I rode the Ohio Derby in 1995,
on a sway back. That colt broke his maiden and that was it. And he did not do
it in the OHIO DERBY. I finished ninth of sixteen.
FOTH: What are some things you like to do when away from the racetrack?
LL: My bird (cockatiel,) my fiddle, working out, reading, writing, woodworking.
I enjoy writing most of all. I suppose you can tell.
FOTH: Take us through what you do in a typical day.
LL: I get up at five or six AM, get to the track by fifteen to seven (that's
when training hours begin at Mountaineer Park) and exercise as many horses as
I can. If I don't ride them I expect to get paid for galloping them. Right now
there are so many people at Mountaineer Park trying to Ride or Gallop that there
is less work to be found so lately I've had a relaxed routine. Really the average
jockey's job, depending on where you are at, consists of either showing up consistently
to at least talk to the connections for whom you expect to ride, which
is sometimes handled for you completely by your agent.
Right now I know one rider who shows up at the track maybe twice a week
to visit his main outfits and breeze a horse or two. It's a sound strategy on
one hand because -- standoffishness has the effect, in my opinion, of giving
you an aura of mystery and untouchability. Plus you put your best foot forward
with only the few short minutes you spend with your connections. It’s more ‘professional.’
Also, if you aren’t working your ass off all morning, it’s a lot easier
to ride good races. Maybe not so much when you are young, but when you have
your game pretty polished, you don’t need your energies sapped by having to
pull a double shift mentally every day of the week. Most of the jocks I know,
including myself, exercise horses, breeze horses and chat with people on a daily
basis. At the smaller tracks they like you to be interested in them and their
horses. It's a grueling routine day in and day out, but with the associated
camaraderie, it can be a lot of fun.
The rest of the day is mine. Now that I no longer ride, I'm free to enjoy
my hobbies. When I used to ship out of town to ride, it would be all day, miserable,
but it pays and the part of seeing old friends and making new wherever you go
is really great. The charge you get out of being a performer is really cool.
I used to be on the phone more, calling people to stay on top of horses or outfits
if I thought I needed to, and call outsiders to try to snag open mounts. Most
jocks either do that or get agents to do it for them. That's about all there
is to a day, besides riding. Now, as an exercise rider I use the phone all morning
while I am galloping, to keep people informed of when I’ll be coming to their
FOTH: If a young girl came up to you and asked how do I become a jockey,
what advice would you give her?
LL: Just DON'T GIVE UP!!!!!! If you can tie your own shoe right now, you'll
get there if you remember that. Your life will be more satisfying if you decide
early on whether you want to do it all your life or just for a couple of years
while you are young. You will automatically adjust your sights to one or the
other and pursue your chosen path more wisely according to your goals.
I have relaxed a lot of my
thinking in the area of what's ethical as far as getting exposure. The following
is my opinion. I am offering personal insight, not authority.
You have to be able to use your head in spite of fear. That’s usually something
that people who like to ride, ski or mountain climb develop anyway. But if you
seriously lack that kind of courage, you’ll be seriously compromised.
You don’t have to be or seem
really intelligent right now if you are a woman. The way I see it, your intelligence is transparent to most
men. Biology speaks loudest. They want you on their horse because they want
to get in your pants, mainly. That’s only natural right now, at least in this
era. Also, showing that you are
smart is a threat to most men, especially the kind who make up the lion's share
of your business.
You don’t have to be a puritan, but I think that as a general rule, establishing
a professional reputation at the track is easier if you keep your personal,
and especially your social and sexual life off the track. As long you’re a mystery you’re
in demand. Nobody knows anything bad, so they are more likely to be kind. But
here’s the rub: they never let up. It’s like the paparazzi. How many gracious
ways can you think of to say “no” and still get yes for an answer For example:
You: “I think I know what Temple Master needs. If you put
me on him in the Fifth on Saturday I guarantee it will be the best shot you
ever took to win.”
Them: “Well, babe, I think you need to put yourself
on me in my motel room Friday night. And I guarantee you’ll still
have Temple Master to win with on Saturday.”
It’s hard to stay out of trouble
when you are young. You can’t hit all home runs right out of the box; there’s
just too many curve balls coming at you. But that’s actually forgivable. If
you were and are at least a good person and a decent hand, over time (and careers
build over time) the life experience and exposure you gained both on and off
the racing surface will stand you in good stead. You can even reinvent yourself
(probably only once) on the 'I was young and stupid back then’ excuse. Most
of a rider’s image is based on hype anyway.
When you are a kid you don't realize that each year your volume of contacts
increases so eventually you just have regulars that keep you making a living.
They have had success with you in the past, and that means a lot. They may fire
you sometimes, but they'll bring you back. (You just have to wait till they
fire everyone else again.)
For Girls that are already Outstanding Riders Only!
Those who want to be
Famous Race riders:
Just say yes!
If you are really good, it
sometimes doesn’t matter what you do "Yeah, but she screwed her way to
the top." (Big deal; some jealous asshole doesn't like you and wants to
rub you in dirt. Believe me if they can't do it that way they'll find another.)
Where that’s the case, screw your reputation! It's a paper tiger. There’s
so much less acknowledgement of sexual harassment on the racetrack that I can’t
imagine one single heroine ‘turning the tide.’ So how should we judge you if
you ride that tide, instead?
In a sense, you’re not doing anything that other second-class citizens haven't
had to do to get a foothold. Look at the Irish and Italians now. Their presence
in society is transparent. They hold public offices. By the same method, the
numbers of women who 'steal' or ‘trade for’ participation and technology from
the boys will help add to the general network of women in the business. Eventually
there will be enough of us to keep women in the business without having to barter
with the sanctity of our bodies and the ‘extra chores’ that carve away at the
few free hours we would otherwise have.
I’m not saying this is the best and easiest way, if you are a really good
rider, to accomplish a great career. I'm simply saying that if you are a really
good rider, your personal reputation probably won’t screw it up for everybody
else. Just make sure your mind is clear whatever you choose. You only ride for
so many years, so measure the rewards against the sacrifices, and go forward
Just be aware that nobody likes a ruthless person, a show off or a smart
ass, and they don't forget that stuff.
Unless you’re an outstanding rider who wins races, no amount of ‘putting
out’ is going to keep you anyplace you screwed yourself into. You’ll wind up
with a bad reputation, a very short jockey career, and a lot of baggage on the
road back to R.E.S.P.E.C.T. in
your career on the racetrack. Worse, your personal identity will suffer. Ultimately
your self- respect is at stake, so bargain cautiously!
FOTH: What sort of injuries have you had and what was the worst one?
LL: Broken Knee, torn cartilage, 1981, split upper lip, 1984, Fractured metacarpal,
right hand, 1985, fractured fibula, 1992, right leg, Compressed vertebra t-11,
1993, right collar bone 1995, Right foot 1996, right wrist 1998, left hand 1998
(bad year), Torn soleus in left calf, 2000. The torn soleus was by far the most
painful and most damaging injury I've had. They are right about soft tissue
injuries. They hurt like hell and they are never the same. This injury has caused
me more aggravation than any of my broken bones including my knee, and it has
made my olds knee injury begin to aggravate me. The easiest one was my back.
It was only a slight compression. I barely knew it was there, and it was like
getting paid to sit on my ass. I was glad to get back to riding, though I was
never bored the whole time I was off. Finally, broken right fibula, lower aspect,
2002, and severed ACL ligament, Left Knee 2005.
FOTH: What accomplishments have you done in your career?
LL : I have very little to say about my accomplishments as a rider; the only
outstanding record I have had to date is just remaining in the standings at
Thistledown during the time I was based there, or at least '94,'95,'96, and
I think in '95 or 6 I was 10th or 11th leading rider overall, not bad for a
girl riding a during a program of only thirty-five carded races per week (Ohio's
'Seven - n - Seven' program) My career has been very low profile, so my ‘accomplishments’
are just things I am personally proud of. The first is that of actually becoming
a jock, really, since I was born into a milieu of educated, well-read individuals,
few of who could tell which end of a horse eats. My dad's dad was head of the
public schools around Flint, Michigan, Dad was a teacher, his sister was a teacher,
various associated people close to us on both sides of the family are artistic
and musical or teacher types.
I was an athletic kid but I never rode until I was out of the stage where
kids take to things easily, so I was a very unbalanced rider. I always had a
romantic attraction to racetrack culture. I always wanted to know how the shysters
and gypsies carried on. I met lots of shysters and gypsies and unfortunately
for my reputation, carried on with some of them. I never held a horse though
I did get involved in some misdirection plays. Because of the folks I was around,
when I began to ride many people didn't want to use me because they thought
I would get their horses claimed or not let their horses run. I even think that's
half the reason I got turned in to the Canadian authorities when I rode there
with the bug; because I was associating with folks they considered to be undesirables.
The thing about these gypsy folks was that they always made the funniest
things happen. I learned a lot and I met real characters. Some of the stories
are unforgettable, and best of all, true. The fact is that all of my excuses
for why I never 'made it' and all the stupid things I did to stop myself from
being successful come from not wanting the business to take away my ordinariness.
When you are ordinary you go home after work and your life belongs to you. If
you are Chris McCarron or Gary Stevens, you'll be on your way to the East coast
on your kid's birthday, or having to ride ten races when you want to be flying
your new kite. I'm not saying they are missing something. They have what they
want. So, by the same token, when I look at my life so have I.
I also was most concerned with traveling more than with becoming anything.
I went to California for a while before I started riding, and I really got my
best education in Texas, in the short time I spent working for the MacArthurs.
I don't think Tami Purcell would remember me, but I met her there. I got to
see Manor Downs, Bandera, and some little joint in Goliad, Texas. I worked at
Manor. That was 1987 or ‘88. ‘88 I think. I worked at Penn, Finger Lakes, Farms
in Ocala, Tampa, Got to fly to the Gulfstream sale once in a little twelve-seater
with Steve DiMauro, Sr. and his daughter (I think). I was so shy at the time
I didn't say a word the whole time, till he asked me how I enjoyed the trip.
He probably thought I was brain dead.
I've never worked on the NYRA circuit, and the only NYRA track I've been
to is Saratoga, even though I'm from NY. Being a horseperson by trade makes
you able to go anywhere you want to go and make a living (but you have to get
permission to do it as a foreigner.
I know this….) At every moment in my career I have had what I wanted. My memories
will keep me laughing for a long time, and my ordinary life permitted me to
go fishing a lot.
I count as one of my accomplishments the tour of the Mass. Fairs because
that's like getting to be part of a piece of history. My greatest accomplishment
of all by far though has been the realization that beyond a sympathetic hand
and a decent sense of balance, there is not much mystique to being a race rider.
Some make lots of money, but it's a trade just like plumbing or playing in an
orchestra. You are there because you belong there and the longer you do it the
better you get. You never stop adding to your experience. I'm not the outsider
I always thought I was. The trade fit my personality; it was never dull, ever,
and my worst day riding was better
than a good day fishing. It fit
me. I wasn’t the best jock or the worst jock, but I was a good tradesman.
I've always viewed the 'big gambles' as highlights in my career. Three times
I have been shipped out of town to ride for someone who expected to make a 'score',
and I was always proud that I was given that responsibility. Once all I got
was dinner and a photo, even though my connections made some dough; once the
horse ran horrible and turned out to have a bad lung infection. By far the best
was when my agent and I were given about fifteen per cent of the take. That
was Jerry Noss, and I'll never forget him saying that we would get me a new
truck, a nice one with the money. Sure enough I got a little Nissan, and I loved
that truck; I was so proud of it.
It’s unusual -- the horse ships OK, he's ready to run, I was prepared with
sufficient strategy, someone had the money to bet, the equipment didn't break,
I was smart enough to wake the plodder up when the track turned bad in time
to get the money -- when everything
goes as planned. We came and left Philadelphia park like a little mystery...
Another time I knew I was sitting on a winner even though the race was the
wrong race. It had just enough speed to set up for me, though, and the horse
was at an absolute peak and I knew it, so I asked the trainer to bet for me.
Well, on that confidence he bet for himself as well, and the groom bet too,
and we all made money. She paid 50.20.
I really don't recall much joy during my career because I never could handle
the mental stress. Every time I won all I could feel was relief that I might
get to 'hang onto' an outfit a little longer, I don't recall feeling like 'I
WON'. Finally after getting on
a course of medication for depression,
I'm glad to have finally gained control in those aspects of my participation.
I felt like I was riding when I rode, winning when I won, and no concern about
my Image or reputation as a rider. That’s my greatest accomplishment.
FOTH: Looking back now do you have any regrets at all about the way things
went for you?
LL: No. They went the way they were supposed to go for me. Most of the things
I did cost me earlier and greater success than I could have had, but I can tell
anyone all about my path now and they can learn from my hits and misses. I'm
as happy about that as I would be about a big trophy. Actually, I don't think
I ever wanted anything big like that, not if it would have cost me the character
I have or the personal space I enjoy. Some of what I'm writing about here has
to do with moves I wish I had made or feelings I've had. I'm speaking it so
that those who follow me can use my unembellished record to make the best choices
for their own careers. I'm not making up legends specifically for that reason.
FOTH: After you retire what do you plan on doing? Do you think you will
miss it a lot?
LL: Well, now I am retired. I still plan on sharing my experiences in whatever
way I can, to offer guidance to anyone else who is interested in being a jockey,
as I mentioned above. Also I have a lecture I have given once to students at
my alma mater, Alfred University. I'm
still going to horseback in any shape or form and make a living doing it until
I can't anymore. When that time comes, I am sure whatever I like to do will
find its own way to make money. I'd miss the folks I've met if I couldn’t stay
connected to the Industry, so I am going to always find a way to work around
FOTH: Liz, mega thanks for the interview and being part of our page. Any
last words you want to say?
LL: Thanks for waiting for this, and thanks for taking my essay- style answers.
They are intended to give people a sense of the first- person experience. I
hope kids coming up will find this reading to be enlightening as well as entertaining.
Best of luck for the growth of your website, Gentlemen!! January 10, 2007
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