Nancy Summers rode from the 80’s up until 2015 and has ridden (not counting her quarter horse races) in over 8000 races (!!!). She is now a trainer, and here is her story:
FOTH: Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
NS: Santa Fe NM. Born and raised.
FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up?
NS: We grew up in the country, my whole family rode. I was a cowgirl.
FOTH: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
NS: An actress or a veterinarian.
FOTH: Now, did you always have a love for horse racing, or did that come later on in life?
NS: My family showed horses, but I never saw a race till I was 18.
FOTH: What did you think the 1st time you saw a live horse race?
NS: I then dreamed about being a jockey.
FOTH: At what point in your life did you want to become a jockey?
NS: My mother got me a job at the Downs at Santa Fe in 1982, for my college summer job. I realized I could fulfill my dream then; I did not go back to college.
FOTH: Take me through the steps of becoming one. What was the 1st job you had on a racetrack? Looking back, was becoming a jockey harder than you thought it was going to be?
NS: I started as a groom in the summer of 1982. I was galloping by the end of the summer. I went on to Phoenix that winter and galloped. I started riding the next summer in Santa Fe. It was just a natural progression. It wasn't that hard
FOTH: How long did it take you from getting up on your 1st horse to getting your jockey's license? What was the feeling like when you had that license in your hand?
NS: 1 year. It was exciting!
FOTH: You started to ride in 1983. At which track did you ride yyour 1st race at and how nervous were you? What do you remember about the race these days?
NS: I rode it at the Downs at Santa Fe. I wasn't that nervous. I had competed my whole life on horses, shows, rodeos etc.
NS: I remember I wish someone would have told me that horses will just run up on top of one in front, and you need more space than you think. I almost clipped heels in my first race.
FOTH: Tell me about your 1st win. What track was it, and did you win by a lot, or in a photo?
NS: I won on my 6th race in Santa Fe on Two to Paradise. She won easily.
FOTH: Did the jockeys get you good after the race, and did you know it was coming?
Just eggs and shaving cream.NS: My boyfriend was the outrider, so he didn't let them paint me.
FOTH: You rode for a long time and, forget your quarter horse stats as according to Equibase, you rode in 8,163 races Thoroughbred races. Does that in some ways amaze you?
NS: Not really, it was just a way of life, and I loved it.
FOTH: It also says your last race was in 2015 at Zia Park. Are you retired now? If so, did you know that when you were riding your last race? What made you retire, if you are retired?
NS: I woke up August of 2015 one morning, and had lost about 20% of my balance and the world moved. I had to take off my horses. I thought it was a temporary thing, but after numerous doctors, I am diagnosed with bilateral vestibular loss, they don't know why, they have no way to fix it, per Mayo Clinc. I am better and I did go back to riding at Zia, but I didn't feel comfortable riding anymore. I have kept positive, thinking it would go away completely, but it hasn't, I have had to realize my riding career has ended, that was hard.
FOTH: Now do you know how total races you have ridden, including the races in Russia, which I will get to in a minute?
NS: 3901 quarter horse races.
18 races in Russia
8163 TB races
FOTH: In 1990, you told me you went and rode at 3 tracks in Russia. Please tell me how that came about. Were you the only USA based jockey that did this at the time? Are the tracks there much different than the ones here in the US? Did you win any races while there, and what are some of your favorite memories from the experience? How were the crowds there?
NS: It was a FABULOUS experience! In 1989, some Russian jockeys did a tour in America, and they rode at Sunland Park where I was riding at the time. I went and spoke to the people that brought them and just threw it out there that they should do the same with American jockeys, and I would love to go. A few months later, they called me and said they wanted to take 3 jockeys. They had tried to get some big name jockeys but had no luck, as all they were offering was to pay all expenses, and give us spending money, but that was all they had. I jumped at the chance for an all-paid vacation, and they had me recruit 2 others. The crowds were huge, and we were like movie stars everywhere we went. We were there for 2 weeks, rode at 3 different tracks. I rode 18 races and won 1. The horses didn't run well for us, our guides thought we were way too still, and encouraged us to jump up and down, and hustle more. Lol, Vickie Smallwood and Eugene O'Niel.
Drinking was a huge part of the culture it seemed, and every night they had huge parties for us, and served Russian vodka that they were very proud of. Their horses were poor quality, as their country had been closed off for so long. We didn't tell them though; it wouldn't have gone over well. We didn't want to hurt their feelings. Everyone was so nice to us. They had every day planned with fun things to do and see. The tracks weren't much different, other than a very relaxed atmosphere. It was a great time.
FOTH: How did you end up involved in riding Quarter Horse races? Do you know how many races you have won riding in those? You also told me you have won 5 Grade 1 Quarter Horse races. What were the names of these, and at what tracks?
NS: In NM they run half TB and half QH races on a card, so many jockeys ride both. I won 491 races.
I won the West Texas Futurity twice, Rainbow Futurity ($691,000) Ruidoso Futurity ($420,000) and West Texas Derby. They were all grade 1 QH races In Sunland Park and Ruidoso.
AQHA has me winning 22 stake races total.
FOTH: Horse racing is dangerous enough and, to me, I have seen some live, quarter horse racing, it's just that more dangerous. You didn’t have any fear in riding in such races?
NS: I actually think QH racing is safer and easier than TB. You just have to run a straight line and go fast, not a lot of thought process or strategy. It’s just fun.
FOTH: What was it like being leading rider in 1989 at San Juan Downs and 1990 at Sun Ray Park? Is it sad to know some of the tracks you rode at no longer exist?
NS: Well they are actually the same track, they just changed the name. I loved riding lots of races on good horses! The track that makes me sad it is gone is Santa Fe Downs.
FOTH: Now you rode at several CA Fairs in 1985. For those who do not know what a fair track or meet is, can you explain?
NS: California has a summer fair circuit, where each town runs 2 or 3 weeks. They are a lot of fun, but a lot of moving.
FOTH: I am sure you have had your fair share of injuries, what were some of them, and what was the worst one?
Cracked my wrist once and tore my rotator cuff once, that was my worst one. I guess! Went down quite a few times in different kind of wrecks, but I rolled well,NS: Never got hurt very much.
FOTH: Now you have 904 wins, was there any thought of trying to keep riding to get to 1000 wins, or are you content with knowing if they combined all your wins you would easily have over 1000?
NS: My goal was to win the 1000 TB wins; it bothers me I didn't get there, but oh well...
FOTH: Do you feel you were treated pretty fairly as a jockey, or did any of the male jockeys try stuff to intimidate you at all back then?
NS: I never had any problems. I considered myself equal and so did they.
FOTH: Any funny jockey stories to share?
NS: Not really.
FOTH: Who were some of the other female riders that you rode alongside with?
NS: Vickie Smallwood, Tomey Swan, Harla Webb, Sandi Gann, Violet Smith, Tome Green etc.
FOTH: If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to become a jockey, what would you say to her?
NS: Do it, it was a great career and I am financially set because of it.
FOTH: Do you still follow the sport at all, and if so, what are your thoughts on it these days?
NS: I train a stable of 20 head now, I love racing.
FOTH: When you were riding, was there decent to big crowds at the races?
NS: Huge crowds at some places.
FOTH: What are you doing with yourself these days?
NS: Training racehorses.
FOTH: Here is a few trainer questions: How hard was this trainer test you had to take, tell everyone a bit about it?
NS: It was a 2-hour test, but multiple choice. Not hard when you've been on the track and around horses as long as I have been!
FOTH: How tough was it adjusting to becoming a trainer as opposed to a jockey?
NS: Easy, I had always managed my father's race horses while he was alive. Choose the trainers, and watched over them. I always watched how people I rode for did things. The tough part now is managing the help, as none of my help speaks English. Moving was a lot easier as a jock!! Just my tack and clothes! Now 30 head and trailer, loads of stuff!
FOTH: So have you ridden many female jockeys as a trainer?
NS: Some. But we haven't had many female jocks in NM lately. Kelsi Purcell is riding some for me.
FOTH: So what is a typical day like as a trainer?
NS: Up at 4:30am, check horses, gallop at track till 9 or 10, then to training track where I have 15 babies. Home by 12 (hopefully). Nap. Back at barn at 3:30 to mix feed and or run horses that are in. Hopefully in bed by 9, then get up and do it all again.
FOTH: Have you had any favorite horses or special horses that you have won races with?
NS: Yes. I won 10 or 11 races on a QH named Treacherously, 5 of them graded stakes in 1993, 94, 95. I won 12 out of 24 races on a TB mare named Tricky R. 3 of them stakes. I raised her and broke her, now I have a yearling baby by her.
FOTH: Nancy, I am out of questions I hope you enjoyed your trip down memory lane and thumbs up for the interview. Any last words to wrap this up?
NS: Thanks so much, I love what you’re doing, promoting female jockeys. Racetracks get a bad rap sometimes. I think it's a way of life, and it was a great way and career choice for me.