If you ask Diane Crump why she raced horses, she’ll say it wasn’t to break barriers.
“I just loved it from the get-go.”
But breaking barriers is exactly what she did; Crump was the first female jockey to race in America.
Born in Connecticut, Crump fell in love with horses as a child. But when her family moved to Florida, her passion for equestrian sports began.
As a teenager, she worked on a racehorse farm, doing any odd job the staff could give her. She got her exercise jockey license at 16 and hoped to one day race professionally, but at that time, women weren’t allowed to race.
In 1968, everything changed.
Kathy Kusner, an Olympic medalist in equestrian sports was denied a jockey license by the Maryland Racing Commission on the basis of her sex. She sued and won, granting women across the country the right to ride.
While Kusner became the first woman to become a licensed jockey, the first woman to actually race goes to Crump.
“The first two girls that got licensed tried to ride, and they both got boycotted,” Crump said, who was preparing to race at the Hialeah Park Race Track in Florida in February of 1969. “The stewards at Hialeah just said, ‘No, this is it. You will not boycott, or you will be suspended for the entire meet and you’ll be fined $2,500.'”
She said she had a supportive female trainer and that the owners of her horse were supportive as well.
“I went to Hialeah with an armed guard, because that’s how crazy it was,” said Crump. “Everyone was, well, they didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Although she didn’t win her first race, what mattered most to Crump was that she didn’t come in last.
“The race showed enough that I was capable. So that part, I was happy. It wasn’t competitive. I mean, we beat two or three horses. But I got it accomplished, which was the main thing.”
Her list of firsts didn’t stop there. Crump went on to be the first woman in America to ride the Kentucky Derby the following year. Then she became the first woman to win a stakes race, and the first to ride in many of the tracks across the country. She rode otuside the US as well, competing in Canada, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.
“I lived my dream,” she said. “I just dreamed a lot bigger than I could accomplish.”
She faced plenty of backlash and resistance, but said there were triumphant moments as well.
One stakes race in Canada stuck out in her mind. Three horses were neck and neck, so tight Crump could hardly move.
“The one horse was on the rail, I was on the middle the other horse was on the outside. We were so packed in there, I couldn’t even hit her. You couldn’t use your stick because it was too tight,” she said. “When we came to the wire, the three of us, I was pushing on her neck and just screaming in her ear just trying to get every last ounce out of her, to get her ahead in front.”
Her filly gave it her all, and pulled ahead, narrowly winning the race.
“It took 20 minutes to decide who the winner was and they put my number up,” Crump recalled. “As soon as they put my number up, the other two riders claimed a foul against me.”
After nearly 30 years of racing, injuries forced her to retire.
Horses are still her passion and she runs an equine sales business, but she has a new love: doing therapy work with her dachshunds.
She has a message for anyone who is chasing a dream:
“If you love something, you just have to do it. You have to keep trying, and don’t take no for an answer,” Crump said. “That’s what I’ve found. I hardly ever take no for an answer. I just work around the no until it works to my advantage.”