one to accelerate because her reflexes aren�t as good as a man�s.� Comments like these didn�t stop petite, 103 lb, Olympic Equestrienne, Kathy Kusner, from taking the Maryland State Racing Commission to court on sexual discrimination charges. In victory, she opened the door to any woman who wanted a jockey�s license. The threatened male ego of the jockey colony boycotted, threw stones, and came up with every excuse in the book to deter women from riding. But it was just a matter of time and in early 1969, the �Sport of Kings� became fair game for either gender.�
The first several months of 1969 saw about a dozen women � Penny Ann Early, Diane Crump,
Barbara Jo Rubin, Tuesdee Testa, Sandy Schleiffers, Robyn Smith, Patty Barton, and Mary Bacon among them � jump into the game and take Kusner�s lead. They snapped on their helmets and never looked back. Mostly male patrons flocked in record numbers to get a first hand glimpse of the �jockettes.� (The slang term was derived from �kitchenette� and referenced a woman�s place in the kitchen.) Comments like, �Go home and do the dishes� were common amongst spectators.�
Nevertheless, the media loved the new jockeys. They made appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, Johnny Carson, and The Today Show. Feature articles about them helped sell newspapers and magazines.
But, like other pioneering female athletes, jockeys also had difficulty winning respect. Sportswriters routinely focused on women jockey�s hair length, eye color, and body shape instead of ability. At press conferences, female jockeys were asked personal questions, like, �Do you have plans for getting married?� instead of questions related to racing. According to Mary Jo Festle, author of �Playing Nice: Politics and Apologies in Women�s Sports,� women were constantly reminded that they were doing something unusual. �Female athletes often walked a fine line trying not to act too tough because then they�d be seen as �masculine� and disapproved of; on the other hand, if they behaved too apologetically and �too feminine,�
they risked not being taken seriously as jockeys. So some acted just like male jockeys (including taking part in fist fights) while others adopted extra-feminine strategy, such as asking for a kiss from the owner after a win.�
In 1970, when Diane Crump mounted Fathom in the prestigious Kentucky Derby it became quite evident that �jockettes� were a force to be taken seriously. But it still wasn�t easy. The women faced all the challenges of their male counterparts: practicing, traveling, making weight, winning, losing, and then some. They had the media limelight to deal with and needed to hustle twice as hard for mounts. Male trainers and owners, the gate keepers to getting more mounts, still weren�t convinced
and made it difficult for many to be successful. By 1971, more than half of the original twenty-eight female jocks had quit. New ones donned the colors and soon their ranks grew to nearly 70, but about half of them rode less than twenty races a year, making it hard for some to call it a career. Again, it was their passion for competitive riding that propelled them, not the fruits of their labors. Women only won 501 of the tens of thousands of races run in �71, with each jockey earning an average salary of less than $1,500 dollars that year. The top female jock made just under $20,000.
As the years passed, the women�s insatiable competitive desires continued to trump their financial ones. Their passion also led many to endure
extraordinary physical pain. Mary Bacon, for instance, broke over 50 bones in her body from various spills and once spent eight days in a coma. Afterward, she walked with a limp and doctor�s say suffered brain damage. Julie Krone sustained fractured ribs, a shattered ankle, three compressed vertebrae, a contusion to her heart and two broken hands in one fall. But she, like countless others, climbed right back in the saddle to once again feel the rush of what it's like to cross the finish line in front.
So, what prompted Kathy Kusner, Diane Crump, Barbara Jo Rubin and the other pioneer female jocks to challenge the male domination of racing when they did? After all, decades earlier Wantha Davis,
Lillian Jenkins and Betty Bowdle successfully rode against men at lesser tracks called bush meets or county fairs. The answer lies in the social transformations taking place in the United States at the time. The 1960�s gave rise to the black civil rights and women�s liberation movements. Minorities and women were demanding increased power, respect, and equal opportunity. The growing popularity of television played a role as well. Barbara Jo Rubin commented, "I saw Liz Taylor in National Velvet on TV, and from that time on I had my heart set on riding horses." In the film, then 13-year-old Liz Taylor, cut off her long hair to pose as a male so that she could ride in the prestigious Grand National; thus fueling the belief and desire that young girls can
accomplish their dreams.�
And accomplish their dreams they did. Forty years later, women jockeys have come a long way - several have riden in the Kentucky Derby to many having won more than 1,000 races in their career. Patricia Cooksey made over 2,100 trips to the winner circle, while Julie Krone has won over 3,700 races including The Belmont Stakes (a Triple Crown Race) and The Breeders Cup. She�s the only woman to win either. In 2006, just over 200 women jocks won more than 2,800 races with the top female earning just under $450,000. On June 24, 2007, Emma-Jayne Wilson won the Queen�s Plate, Canada�s equivalent to the Kentucky Derby, the first time a woman jockey has the won the event in it�s 148 year history.�
Female jockey�s have since convinced the likes of Jockey Club Managing Director, Nick Jemas, that they are a competitive force that�s here to stay: �Times change and people change and the resentment faded, little by little,� he explains. �Only a damn fool wouldn�t change his mind.�
The skepticism has all but subsided. It�s now believed women jocks' ability to win has nothing to do with their gender. Some say women riders have a better sense of balance, lighter touch, and communicate better with the horse. The old excuse that women aren�t strong enough just doesn�t cut it anymore. The uniqueness of thoroughbred racing depends heavily on the horse�s performance making it neither an individual nor a team sport.
The United States was the first country to allow women to ride professionally against men. Shortly thereafter, a wave of other countries like England, France, Australia, South Africa, Italy, and Japan followed, giving women around the world the opportunity to professionally ride racehorses.
As for the pioneers who blazed the way, Author Mary Jo Festle contends: �The pressure on female jockeys was intense. They felt they had to be perfect and that any mistake they made would be fatal � not only to themselves but to other and future women jockeys. They believed, with good reason, that to be considered effective jockeys they had to perform not equal to but better than male jockeys. They overcame discrimination by
ignoring it and their routine acceptance of injury and dismissal of fear illustrate not only their courage, but also their passion for the sport. That passion lured a number of these women away from other careers, and it spurs most to say that they hope to continue in a horse related career after they no longer can be jockeys. Their lives and identities are almost wholly subsumed in racing, and they do not see this as a sacrifice.�