I started riding ponies when I was 3 years old. Even though my parents were not horsey people, I always had a pony or a horse to ride throughout my childhood and teen years. I won tons of ribbons, tropies and even some money doing barrel racing and pole bending. I did go to college for one year basically for my mother because she wanted me to have some sort of alternate trade other than horses. After a year, I knew that college wasn’t for me and I really wanted to become a jockey!
In 1972, becoming a woman jockey was not a particularly easy thing to get into. I found a guy not too far from where I lived that offered to teach me how to gallop race horses. That guy was Buck Dodge. At the time, he was racing Quarter Horses so that’s what I learned to ride starting out. I went with him and his family all over Michigan, Ohio, New York and Canada to race them. Buck had a lot of really good stock and I won many races on the Quarter Horse circuit, pretty much just six months after learning to gallop and work horses from the gate. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but the horses were so fast; I just kind of sat there like a passenger and they won. Had great fun racing in Canada and won lots of races.
Sherry in her early quarter horse racing days; in Michigan and Canada.
We ended up in Ohio at a County Fair. The racing was done on a stock car track with a steel railing on the outside. Anyway, galloping out after a race that I had won, one of the riders ran me into the outside rail. Between my inexperience and the hardness of the rail, I fell off, hit the rail and broke my femur. The horse, thankfully was fine.
That brought along an operation and many weeks in the hospital before I could be flown home. It took me about a year to heal from that injury. It never occurred to me to quit. I decided that when I went back to racing, I would go to a thoroughbred track and try my luck learning how to ride thoroughbreds. Green Mountain Park in Pownal, Vermont was only 30 minutes from my home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. So, that’s where I decided to go! My first day driving there, I was very very nervous for lots of reasons. One, I didn’t know anyone there. Two, I was pretty scared about getting on another racehorse. I guess it was something that I wanted really badly so I decided to push on and go meet some people and try to gallop some horses to get fit again. I did find a job galloping and I did learn a lot getting fit. The problem was, everyday for a couple of weeks driving to the track, I would have to pull over at some point and vomit from nervousness. As I got to the race track though, the nervousness went away and the excitement kicked in. I knew I was in the right place to carry on with my chosen career.
I rode at Green Mountain and won my first five races with the 10 lb. bug. From there, I went to Tampa Bay Downs. There were so many jockeys there for the winter that finding horses to race ride were few and far between, especially with my inexperience.
THE GIRLS OF GREEN MOUNTAIN RACETRACK
Barbara Suitor, Sherry Mickle, Chris Derby,
Debbie Long, Jerri Shewel
I got a job galloping for Tony Cataldi. I enjoyed working for Tony and continued to learn more and more. Tony called me Mighty Mouse! I was all of 95 lbs., but managed to gallop every horse in the barn. I knew I couldn’t out pull them, so I learned how to finesse the tough ones. Huge learning experience! Left Tampa early winter and knew I needed to learn more. It was time to learn to start babies.
I was so fortunate to get a job breaking and galloping babies for Lucien Laurin in Holly Hill, SC! Also there was Barbara Smith and Denise Boudrot (from Suffolk Downs) working for Junior Bresnehan. I learned so much there from them and all the riders and horses. There were some beautifully well-bred horses there. A wonderful place to learn about young horses.