Mary De La Fuente

Mary De La Fuente is a retired jockey that rode out in the mid-west and here is her story:

FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

MJ: Born in Mount Vernon Washington, grew up there and in Hawaii for 3 years.

FOTH: Did you come from a big family or a small family?

MJ: Medium family

FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up? Were you a tomboy like most of the other female jockeys I have interviewed?

MJ: Yes, started riding with my dad at age two, grew up riding bareback.

FOTH: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

MJ: Wasn't sure until my farrier told me I could be a jockey.

FOTH: When did horses or the sport of horse racing start to enter your life and at the time did the thought of being a jockey enter your mind?

MJ: I got a job on a racehorse farm with a half mile track training up babies for the tracks.

FOTH: Did you take any kind of riding lessons at all and what was it like getting up on a horse for the 1st time? Did it feel natural to you?

MJ: No riding lessons, it was very easy because of riding bareback all my life.

FOTH: Tell me about your 1st job at a racetrack and what racetrack was it and what sort of job did you have?

MJ: My first job was galloping racehorses at Longacres Racetrack in Washington

FOTH: I am sure at some point you began to exercise horses. When you were doing that, was that just a tune-up for becoming a jockey?

MJ: I exercised race horses for about a year then got my license

FOTH: Did anybody teach you how to ride in the early stages and how fast of a learner were you?

 MJ: I worked a few horses with Gary Stevens he gave great advice and Ron Hansen was very good at showing me how to hold a horse up and switch sticks.

FOTH: How long did you gallop horses for before you became a jockey?

MJ: One year.

FOTH: Looking back, was becoming a jockey easier or harder than you thought it was going to be?

MJ: I knew it wasn't going to be easy. The gate was the spookiest place to be also if you can handle the dirt clods hitting you (in some cases of bull rings a few rocks too) and a flying horse shoe or two clocking you. And not being afraid of getting run off with.

FOTH: Now take me through your 1st race. Where was it at and where did you finish? Were you nervous at all in the jocks room before the race?

MJ: First race was so crazy fast your mind can't catch up to everything happening. Yakima. Don't remember where I finished just glad I did. Took a couple races for the brain to speed up and handle everything going on around you.

FOTH: Tell me about your 1st win. Where was it at and did you win in a photo or was it a big margin and what was it like jogging the horse into the winner’s circle?

MJ: First win was Les Boise Park Boise Idaho. Won by about two lengths. Going into the winners circle was a great feeling of accomplishment.

FOTH: Did the jocks get you good after the race and did you know it was coming?

MJ: Fire hose and painted with black shoe polish

FOTH: How long did you ride for and what tracks did you ride at? You told me you rode on the west coast. Did you ever manage to make it out to the mid-west or east coast? What was your favorite track you rode at?

MJ: Longacres, Yakima Meadows, Les Boise Park, Portland Meadows, Golden Gate, Bay Meadows, Los Alamitos, Turf Paradise, Prescott Downs, Farmington Downs

FOTH: What led to you retiring and at the time did you know your last race was going to be your last race and do you ever miss the days or riding?

MJ: Fractured neck, fractured back, several broken bones, many whiplashes and two severe head injuries. Yes I miss racing and morning works and just galloping.

FOTH: What is your opinion on racetracks have all these casinos being built within the racetracks?

MJ: Don't really have one.

FOTH: Do you think when you were riding that you were treated pretty fairly?

MJ: At certain tracks yes. Other tracks no.

FOTH: Do you feel you had a certain riding style? 

MJ: I was a hand rider, didn't over use the stick I'd rather lift a horse up and push him.

FOTH: What are some things you like to do nowadays?

MJ: Play music, Guitar

FOTH: If some young girl came up to you and said she wanted to become a jockey, what advice would you give her?

MJ: Keep your head picked up.

FOTH: When you look back over your riding years, what are some things that pop into your head?

MJ: I loved working horses in the dark before the sun come up and the moon set.

FOTH: Will the sport ever see another Triple Crown winner?

MJ: Yes

FOTH: Did you have many injuries when you were riding and what was the worst one?

MJ: The worst one a horse stumbled and snapped my head back fractured my neck and rotated the Atlas and The Axis. Knocked the crystals loose in my ears and permanently lost my balance with resulting severe migraines. Broke a leg from knee straight down green stick fracture all the way to ankle. Ribs, collar bone, torn ligaments in knee, two severe head injuries and several other fractures. Compression fracture L 3 and 4 rotated L5 in the back.

FOTH: Any last words and thumbs up for doing this interview?

MJ: It was a cool job. The people on the track look out for each other.  Thanks Chris

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