This lively YA novella is the partly fictionalised bio of the first Black American female jockey, Cheryl White. We see her youth on a racehorse stud and training farm, and her partnership with the young Thoroughbred, Jetolara. THE JOCKEY AND HER HORSE reinforces the sad truth that in order to get to the top in the horse world, you need to have parents in the business. But Cheryl, born in 1953, had an unusual set of parents for that time. Her father was African American and her mother was white.
I enjoyed learning about Cheryl and her Thoroughbreds. I had not heard of her, but obviously, somebody had to be the first, like the first Space Shuttle pilot to be female. While Cheryl was watching a television quiz show with her good friend, Earlene, they heard that a female Olympian had won a court case over being denied a jockey license because she was female. Kathy Kusner opened up a world of possibilities for the girls. The story is written in cooperation with Raymond White Jr., Cheryl’s brother, called Drew in the story, his middle name, as their father is Raymond. They grew up in rural Ohio and worked for their family, but we discover that in the past, enslaved people in East Africa who were already working with horses were brought to America to work with horses, so that would be their roots. We also find that the first rider to win the Kentucky Derby was Black, but at the time of the story, not many riders of colour were the major event winners. So, Cheryl had a great deal to overcome.
I like that we see moments of closeness with a friend, Earlene, and later, how one girl proves inspirational to many. Some of the story is provided in the voice of the horse, helping young readers see the world as a horse does and understand that they are not dumb animals or machines. What I am not keen on, is a section being entirely invented and told as true, though it did seem odd to me, only to insert a note at the back explaining that it didn’t happen. I believe another way could have been found to convey the message. Not all readers read end notes.
HORSE CRAZY is the previous work by Sarah Maslin Nir, in which she went to various cities meeting horse people and their horses. This sounds to me like one of the best jobs in the world. THE JOCKEY AND HER HORSE is her second book for younger readers, in a praiseworthy series called Once Upon a Horse. I would have liked at least one photo of Cheryl or her home, but that’s why nature gave us imagination.