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She took the fast track to success

February 22, 2002

She took the fast track to success



Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a week-long series during National Black History Month recognizing blacks in the area who make a difference in their communities.

By SARAH MULLIN
martinsburg@herald-mail.com


CHARLES TOWN, W. Va. - It began with a pony named Pinky.

Sylvia Rideoutt Bishop has lived her entire life in Charles Town, W.Va., where her love for horses led her to a career as a horse trainer at Charles Town Races.

Her passion for the work drove her to become the first black woman in the country to be licensed as a horse trainer. Bishop, 81, said she earned the license when she was 18 or 19 years old.

"I was practically the only black woman on the race track. At times it was difficult. When you love something you turn a deaf ear and keep going. I always had plenty of respect," she said.

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"In those days when I came along it was a little different. Everybody looked after everybody else. It wasn't competitive," she said. "It was like a big family."

Bishop devoted more than 65 years to her job before arthritis in her left leg forced her to give up the training work two years ago.

"Oh yes, yes indeed I miss it," she said. "If that old leg wouldn't hurt me I'd still be doing it."

Bishop's love for horses began when her godparents and guardians, William and Lavania Payne, bought her a pony named Pinky when she was 5 years old.

When she was about 14 years old she would ride her bike to the race track, where she helped out with the horses.

When Bishop was 17, she bought a horse named Chalkee, an unbroken 2-year-old that had never had a saddle on its back. Robinson's Barn, now replaced by a housing development, was where unbroken horses were kept, and where Bishop trained her first horse.

Chalkee was bought "on the cuff," $200 down, with the rest of the money coming from the horse's winnings, she said.

"She paid her way," Bishop said.

Chalkee was bred and gave birth to a foal named Half Quaked. Chalkee died giving birth to another foal.

For more than 65 years, Bishop's day began at 3 a.m.

"They have banker's hours now, coming in at 8:30 or 9 in the morning. I was finished by then, waiting to feed," she said.

During her long career, Bishop trained many horses, some her own, many owned by others.

"I owned a lot. It goes so far back." she said. "I just loved them all. They were all my babies."

During her career Bishop maintained an open stable, where she would train up to 25 horses at a time.

"Those were good days," she said.

Even though arthritis keeps her from training, she said she stays on top of what goes on at the track.

Bishop's niece, Linda M. Berry, has followed in her aunt's footsteps, both owning and training horses.

"She has taken after me," Bishop said.

The Jefferson County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will honor Bishop at its annual Black History and Soul Food Tasting Program on Feb. 24 at 3 p.m. The event will be held at St. Philip Episcopal Church in Charles Town.

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