Join me on Facebook, too!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Hard Riders - Women Who Take the Reins by Jill Baker

The following is a republication of LinkedIn Pulse article, with permission from the author, Jill Baker. Think what you will about me posting this within my strong women series, but gosh, I found I stood a little straighter after reading it.

I met Jill, a public relations expert, a few years ago during Mystery Night at New England Mobile Book Fair. (Put this bookstore on your MUST GO TO list and mark your calendars for the first Thursday in December for Mystery Night!) We struck up a conversation and have stayed in touch ever since. I had no idea our conversations would connect into her public relations world, but was pleasantly surprised when she approached me with an observation she had. 

Hard Riders - Women Who Take the Reins by Jill Baker

Maria Remedio riding Major Highway
Photo by Nikki Sherman used with permission.

One is a writer. One is a professional jockey. Yet both women are connected by the power of the horse – a metaphor appropriate for anyone trying to place or excel in their career.
This post results from a random convergence of events – a pleasantly unexpected realization that there are parallels worth sharing.
A few weeks ago, I was talking with an author whose politically-charged thrillers are built around an equestrian theme. A few days later, I interviewed a female jockey to be profiled in the upcoming Women in Sports video series, selected by Indiewire as a favorite pick.  
These strong women compete and succeed in traditionally male-dominated fields. They possess the confidence, assertiveness, and drive needed to win, yet both share a sense of compassion that plays out in their personal lives. This balance is perhaps not too different from the horse itself – strong and commanding on one hand but gentle and sensitive on the other.
Connie Johnson Hambley, lawyer-turned-thriller-author of The Charity andThe Troubles, “grew up around horses and was riding before I could walk.” The arsonist’s fire that engulfed her family’s dairy farm left a lasting impression. She uses that drama to weave richly-layered plots in a niche usually dominated by male writers. Hambley knows the fortitude it takes to hold her own on the field and in a room full of tough-talking word makers. She describes this attribute as “grit” which she defines as “somewhere between discipline and resilience.”
Maria Remedio holds nearly 500 horse racing wins and in 2013 was the third leading female rider in the country with 93 wins. She grew up on a farm in North Delaware, surrounded by horse breeders and handlers. She began “doing stalls before I ever got on their back.” At fifteen, her stepdad put her on a horse and advised her to keep her goggles on “so they won’t know you’re a girl.” She experimented with Western riding but moved to English, preferring the rigors of racing to the elegance of dressage. “Instead of friends, I had responsibility,” Remedio recalls. By seventeen, she had secured her jockey’s license and was granted an apprenticeship. Her edge over male counterparts: being ten pounds lighter to start.
Remedio’s day typically begins at 6:45 a.m. when she’s at the track, going from stable to stable to see who might need help that day. (Talk about call-back interviewing and change management!) Remedio notes that she recently raced at Parx in Philadelphia on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday; Aqueduct in New York on Wednesday and Saturday, and was in Florida in between. Somehow she manages to juggle this grueling schedule while being Mom to two young girls.
Remedio fondly remembers winning aboard her mother’s horse, King Kobe, 4 weeks after giving birth to daughter Arabella; running second in New York aboard Siete de Oros in a grade 2 stake race for trainer Ramon Preciado (losing to Belmont Stakes performer Vyjack); and setting a track record on the turf on a filly named Darling Sky for Butch Reid this year.
Lest you think a writer gets to sit and write all day, Hambley’s agenda bounces between book signings in New York, fundraisers in Boston , and frequent community events. She’s a panelist with the Sisters in Crime, speaks on publishing and marketing to authors throughout New England, and recently participated in the Mystery Writers Gala at New England Mobile Book Fair.

So what does it take to succeed?
Hambley likens writing to riding. “It takes the same game-on mentality as it does to race,” she says. “Sure you need technical ability, but you also need the wherewithal to hang in there. You can’t shy away. You can’t quit.” Of riding she says, “Yes, you need physical strength, but male muscle mass is not going to win. You have to have a connection with the horse and be highly intuitive” – qualities that also apply to understanding one’s readers.
Hambley's characters have secrets and are embroiled in the Irish resistance. “I’ve had to make narrative decisions that are not feminine, not nice,” she says. She conveys loud and clear that women who write thrillers can’t be wimps.
Remedio says something similar. She credits good horses and good luck – meaning an opportunity to shine -- with her success, but like Hambley, acknowledges, “Every day I have to prove myself. I constantly need to convince owners and trainers why they should ride me. I have to battle against other jockeys to get the job, and then battle them on the track. It’s mentally and physically demanding.” And much like a bad book review, "I get blamed if the horse doesn’t win."
Interestingly, both women – while extremely competitive in their professions -- parlay their skills and love of horses for the greater good.
Hambley volunteers at Windrush Farm, a therapeutic riding stable for people with disabilities. She has also given her time as a horse handler to a program that helps Veterans overcome PTSD and to another group that empowers women rescued from human trafficking.
Remedio is involved with Turning For Home, a nonprofit organization that gives retired racehorses a meaningful life. Since its founding in 2008 by the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, they have provided more than 1,000 racehorses with a safe retirement.
What makes horses so inspiring? “There’s a huge brain behind those big brown eyes,” Hambley says, noting that much has been written about “the connection between horse and human.” At the risk of sounding trite, she allows that this connection is something on a spiritual level.
What advice does Remedio have for young women hoping to hold the reins? “Be as tough as the men. Never give up. Remember that we are just as strong but also have a softer side. That’s an advantage. Use it.”
Shantel Rizzotto, a role model in her own right, will tap these tangible and intangible traits to reveal “What It Takes” in her Women In Sports documentaries. You can preview some clips here.


Jill Baker is a media marketer who has worked in newspaper, magazine, and digital publishing industries. She has blogged for Technorati, Bizo's Digital Marketing Remix, and LinkedIn Pulse where this post originally appeared. Jill is currently in the process of bringing her first book to market.


FRIDAY FEATURES is a steady presence on Out of the Fog where I explore the concept of "strong women." Who are they? What makes them strong? How do we see them in writing and/or in business? If you're an author, what is their place in the world of thrillers of mysteries? If you're in business, how is the working environment impacted by the presence of a "strong woman" and how are they seen as leaders and team members? If you're an emerging strong woman, tell us about your journey. Have other questions you find compelling? Ask away and I'll post the answers here. 

If you have something to say about the topic of 

strong women, contact me on Twitter: 


Special thanks to Chris Forbes from Parx for facilitating this post and for spotlighting The Female On The Horse... and to Nikki Sherman for permission to use her racing photo of Maria Remedio on Major Highway.