Jeremiah Ariaz documents the longstanding tradition of black trail-riding clubs among Creole communities in South Louisiana, drawing from scenes of their rides to “depict joy, pride, and familial intimacy, particularly between fathers and sons who are taught to care for and ride horses from an early age.”
A Southern Journey from the Summer 2018 issue.
Pulled by the pale, stout horses, we listened as he told us the history of the paniolo culture in Hawaii. I sat on the wagon’s bench behind my father as he talked. I sat and listened as if cocooned in that place, that time, enveloped in those clouds of mist that we drifted into and out of, wrapped in one of the wool blankets that my father provided to the tour’s guests. When prompted with questions from the visitors, my father told about himself, his history as a jockey in Tennessee, and how he ended up in Hawaii to work with horses—the first time I learned those things about him. I wasn’t in his story. I tried to work myself into it, but I couldn’t.
Here are the facts: In the first Kentucky Derby run in 1875, thirteen of the fifteen jockeys were black, including the winner, Oliver Lewis on Aristides. Black jockeys won fifteen of the first twenty-eight derbies. Isaac Murphy, whose winnings built a mansion in Lexington near the old Kentucky Association racetrack, won the derby three times and had an overall win record of 34.5 percent. Jimmy Winkfield, who was born in 1882, won the derby twice. He went to Russia to race and then fled the Bolshevik Revolution, leading a band of Thoroughbreds to Poland. Winkfield lived the high life as a trainer on the tracks outside Paris, France, but when he returned to Kentucky in 1961 at the invitation of racing journalists, he was turned away at the door of the Brown Hotel because he was black.
Shelley and Chief burst through the trees across the pasture. It was the end of a hot day of riding at the stables near our home in Tampa. My sister had gone out there with a friend and, as usual, she was one of the last to return. Shelley would turn fifteen that summer. She never took to softball or cheerleading; she was deeply in love with horses. Our divorced parents recognized this, and Chief—a deceivingly handsome bay with some quarter horse in him—was her prize.