While women continue to fight for equal wages and respect within the workplace, the horse racing industry is surrounded by barriers made to keep women out. Women jockeys are rare, but it’s not for lack of interest. Sexism rears its ugly head as trainers typically refuse to race females and continue to push them to the outskirts of the business. They claim women can’t get the job done as well as a man because they’re weaker, but a few key female jockeys in Washington aren’t going to let that outdated belief get in their way.
Jennifer Whitaker is the only female jockey competing this season at Emerald Downs. She’s been an exercise rider since she was 20 years old and started her horse career as a groom in 1957. Despite the pressures of sexism, she has never considered quitting. She’s spent the last two decades jockeying for horse trainer Howard Belvoir, and she’s proving that women jockeys can be just as good as men.
Jockey Jennifer Whitaker on a Rigoberto Velasquez horse
At the start of the 2019 season, Whitaker is on her way to becoming only the 10th rider in the history of Emerald Downs to achieve 500 career wins. Compare her stats to all the other jockeys (all the men), and you’ll see a clear difference. You won’t see anything about her being weaker or not as skilled, all you’ll see is that she’s consistently winning. She says,
“It’s a male-dominated field and we have put our foot in the door and proved to society that we’re equal and we can do it — bottom line — just like any others. There are people who won’t put you on horses because you’re a female. They think you’re weaker, but like I said, it’s not always about the strength — sometimes it’s about getting a horse to run without strong-arming them.”
Whitaker’s trainer, Howard Belvoir, is one of few trainers in the industry who has decided to throw away outdated and sexist beliefs. He’s proud to support his female jockey, but he also admits the road to change won’t be easy. The bias against female riders is deeply embedded in the sport. He told Q13Fox,
“It’s always going to be there. It’s never going to close.”
Female jockeys are a rare sight, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. There are several women in the horse racing industry fighting every day to prove they’re just as good as the men. It will be a long journey for them to finally earn the respect they deserve, but Whitaker and the others are up to the challenge.
Featured image via Facebook/Emerald Downs