She’s the woman who shattered the jockey glass ceiling on the back of a horse, and now she’s been honoured at home.
Joan Phipps, a female jockey who grew up in Saskatoon, was honoured for her achievements at Marquis Downs Saturday night.
Phipps, 61, became the first woman to race with men and paved the way for those after her.
Phipps’ remembers her love of horses came at the age of two when her grandmother took her to the stables at the exhibition grounds.
She left a dysfunctional home at age 16 to go work at Assinaboia Downs in Winnipeg but the move was cut short though when her sister Judy died in a car accident. Joan returned home for a while before going back to Winnipeg.
After Judy’s death, Carl Anderson, a Winnipeg trainer, gave the 99 pound Joan a chance to ride in a Powder Puff Derby, which was an all female jockey race. She was a leading apprentice jockey in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan her first year out of the gate.
Joan was 17 years old when she made her riding debut at Fort Erie, Ont, and not long after, she was riding and winning at Woodbine Race Track in Toronto and American tracks in Chicago, Florida, New York and New Jersey.
Then the course of history was changed when she visited New Zealand in 1976. She won the Ladies Invitational that year and again the next year, but she wanted to race the men.
Phipps didn’t believe there should be a gender barrier and fought until the New Zealand Racing Conference allowed women and men to race together.
She was a long shot against a field of 19 male jockeys.
“They did not want me there. None of the jockeys talked to me. They hassled me. I just stayed focused,” she said.
She made the most of the historic race by riding Daphalee, a mare, to victory in the Te Hinemoa Handicap at Te Awamutu on Nov. 1, 1977.
“I zapped them at the wire and I did it. I won that race by a nose in a three horse photo finish,” Phipps said.
The following year 14 more women made their jockey debuts along the men and won in what would forever be a changed sport in the country.
Phipps was also the first woman to ride against men in Trinidad, West Indies.
She went on to win many more races and served at the first female steward in Canada. But through it all, she said she did not realize the barriers she was breaking.
“I was so focused on just the horses and riding races that I really did not totally understand what was going on, and I do now,” she said. “I’m so grateful and honoured that I could pave the way for the women.”