by Katherine O. Rizzo (first published in the February 2023 Equiery)
Last November, Terry West walked into the Maryland Horse Shows Association’s (MHSA) annual banquet with a friend not expecting anything other than being at the event to support her friends and students. Little did she know that she would be inducted into MHSA’s Hall of Fame that evening.
“I had no idea it was going to happen. No one told me!” West explained. “It’s like the coolest thing. I’m on here with all these great people. It really is such an honor.”
During the presentation, MHSA President Miranda Grabill stated that West is, “the ultimate exhibitor and a fierce competitor.” She went on to describe West’s most notable attribute to be her “great attitude and genuine smile.”
Honorary MHSA board member Streett Moore stated, “Terry West is a wonderful exhibitor who really enjoys showing and always has a smile on her face.” He added, “However in the ring, she is a fierce competitor. Basically, the other exhibitors are riding for second place if she’s in the class.”
All of these characteristics have helped West not only achieve this great honor, but also have a successful show career for more than 50 years.
Terry West was born into a horse loving family whose parents always had horses. “We lived in D.C. and my father showed a little,” she said. West first started showing when she was five years old, mainly on her father’s ponies and ponies that were sent to them to train and show. “We always had show horses so I think I just stemmed off that,” she added when asked why she competes in hunters and jumpers.
As a junior rider, West traveled up and down the East Coast show circuit competing in such prestigious shows as the Hampton Classic, Devon Horse Show, and Washington International Horse Show. One of her favorite shows that West keeps going back to year after year is the Upperville Colt and Horse Show in Virginia. “Who doesn’t like it there!” she said. “The ambiance of that place is just special.”
One of West’s fondest memories competing as a junior rider was with a small Thoroughbred named Mod Squad. “Everyone thought he was a pony cause he was just 15 hands,” she said. “He was a great jumper and we competed all over like Washington, Devon, Harrisburg and up at Lake Placid.”
Watching West and Mod Squad compete at WIHS was a memory that former jockey Andrea Seefeldt Knight also remembers fondly. “I saw her at Washington in the junior jumpers on Mod Squad racing around so boldly that is really stuck with me,” Knight stated. “Then I walk into the jock’s room at Laurel a few months later and there she was! I was star struck.”
During the 1970s, West divided her time between showing horses and exercising Thoroughbreds at Maryland tracks. Then in 1977, she became one of the first African American female jockeys to hold an official license.
“In the 70s it was hard,” West said, adding, “especially as a black female. Certain trainers would give me more rides than others but really I made money exercising horses in the morning, not really riding races.” West noted that things got a “bit” better for female jockeys in the 80s.
Her first race was at Charles Town on July 1, 1977, where she rode Going West to seventh in a Maiden Claiming race. She spent that summer traveling back and forth from Charles Town to Timonium and logged her first win on November 17, 1977, riding Lymond at Charles Town. Lymond was a Virginia-bred that ended up being West’s top earning horse with $13,327 in earnings.
“It was very hard to be a female jockey at that time,” Knight remarked. “We rode what horses the boys wouldn’t ride and Terry was such a good rider that she mostly rode the bad horses that the boys didn’t want to ride!”
During her 10-year career as a jockey, West logged 318 starts for 27 wins, 23 seconds and 21 third place finishes. Her career earnings were $97,636 with her best season being 1985 when she rode to $20,262 in earnings.
West finished her career on the track on the Maryland-bred Rainbow Tour (Gasp x Hills Gem) at Laurel Park on June 20, 1987. “I just kind of felt done,” she said. “I would go back and still gallop from time to time in the spring.” She added with a laugh, “For me, it’s easy and for me, it’s fun to gallop racehorses.”
From Amateur to Trainer
West joined MHSA as a kid and has been a member ever since. “For me, I was fortunate enough to have horses of our own, so I didn’t have to rely on others to give me rides really,” West stated. Though she did often ride ponies for others in the area too. “There are far more black people showing now then when I got started,” she added.
West served on MHSA’s Board of Directors from 2019 to 2022. She explained that being on the board during the 2020 COVID “lock down” involved a lot of phone calls. “We just keep talking about how to get things going again like many others were doing,” she said.
As an adult amateur competitor, West competes in both hunters and jumpers but says deep down she likes the jumper ring a little better. “It’s just more exciting,” she explained, adding, “but hunters can be more difficult!”
Although West says, “a good horse is a good horse,” she tends to ride a lot of off-the-track Thoroughbreds. “They are as we make them, and riders just need to do right by them.” Some of her best OTTBs include All Night Long (Lovey) and Truckee Gold (Truckee). “Lovey is just one of my favorites and everyone loves Truckee!” she said.
One of her favorite shows of the season in Maryland was the All-Thoroughbred Show held at Pimlico each summer. “I won the Thoroughbred Classic one year on Happy and that was really special,” she said. “Rodney Jenkins was judging and that was intimidating but really cool.” Happy’s show name is Classic Rock and now into his 20s, he’s still jumping and showing from time to time.
West also holds her Warmblood Rehab, aka Mario, is high regard. “I love Mario… King Mario is what we all call him,” she said with a smile.
In the end, breeding is not what West really looks for in a show prospect, it is the way the horse jumps. “They don’t have to be a hack winner but they have to be a good jumper,” she explained. “They must be handy with their legs and want to clear the jumps.”
A lot of West’s horses over the years have had lots of personality, which also does not bother her in any way. “Nothing really bothers me as long as during my time, they excel and do what I need them to do,” she said. “On their time, out in the field or in the barn, they can do whatever they want!”
This past year, West made the decision to create Black Cherry Equestrian and be a professional rider and trainer. “I competed as an amateur for years but last year I transitioned into being a pro,” West stated. She already has a strong following of students. “We go out showing two to three weekends a month… so we are open for business!” she added with a laugh.
As a mentor to future show stars, West says her best advice is to “stay humble. Horses will change you in a minute!” And above all… “enjoy every minute of it.”
So, what is next for West? “I really want a cutting horse!” she said laughing. “It’s my new obsession and I know I’ll just get one soon.”