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Style · January 18, 2021

“Fate” unites local author, pioneering horse trainer

Contributed Photos
Sylvia Rideoutt Bishop told her story during dozens of interviews with author Vicky Moon (right).
I believe in fate. I believe fate brought me to Sylvia.
— Author Vicky Moon
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The Rectortown author and journalist’s new book chronicles the life of West Virginian Sylvia Rideoutt Bishop — the first Black woman licensed to train racehorses in the United States.

Ms. Bishop “prevailed to break barriers, shatter stereotypes and celebrate countless transforming victories in the winner’s circle with many wealthy clients,” Vicky Moon writes in Sylvia Rideoutt Bishop Had a Way With Horses: A Pioneering African American Woman’s Career Training Race Horses.

Along the way, domestic hardship and “financial reality forced her to take on extra work,” according to Ms. Moon.

Despite detours, Ms. Bishop remained committed to her calling.

“Never wavering in her passion, she returned to the track to train horses at age eighty,” Ms. Moon explains in the book. “And finally, with little fanfare, she was honored for her pioneering accomplishments.”

The author first learned of Ms. Bishop in July 2004 and soon after began a series of interviews with the retired horsewoman in her Charles Town home. Ms. Bishop died that December at age 84.

“I believe in fate,” Ms. Moon says. “I believe fate brought me to Sylvia.”

Over the years, Ms. Bishop, who received her trainer’s license in 1959, schooled hundreds of horses — perhaps most notably a gelding named “Bright Gem” that won the “Iron Horse Mile” at Shenandoah Downs in Charles Town in 1962.

Ms. Bishop got inducted into the Charles Town Racing Hall of Fame in 2008. In August, Charles Town Races holds the annual “Sylvia Bishop Memorial Race.”

To help mark “Black History Month,” Ms. Moon will give a 10 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3, live Facebook presentation about the book.

Ms. Moon has written 10 books, including seven with horse and/or racing themes. Her biggest book — “The Private Passion of Jackie Kennedy Onassis” — has sold more than 50,000 copies.

She also writes for Country Zest magazine and middleburgmystique.com, which her husband retired Washington Post sportswriter and editor Leonard Shapiro publishes.

Ms. Moon discussed her new book in a recent interview. Excerpts follow.

• How did you find out about Sylvia?
Fifteen-plus years ago, I was standing on line to pay for a coffee at the place in Marshall that has a McDonald’s and a gas station. And I started talking with this guy, who was obviously a horse guy. And he said his aunt is the first Black woman licensed to train horses in the United States.

Two days later, I went to meet Sylvia.

• How many times did you interview her?
Two or three dozen times. I thought of it as like “Tuesdays With Morrie.” We had a once-a-week appointment.

• How long did the interviews last?
Anywhere from an hour to two-and-a-half hours.

• How long did it take to research and write the book?
To complete the book, 15 years.

• Why did it take that long?
I wanted to be as thorough as possible.

• What was Sylvia like?
She was not braggadocious about her accomplishments. She did say at one point to me, in showing me some awards or whatever, “I was the first Black woman to do this.”
But it was like just, “Oh, well, I had scrambled eggs for breakfast.”

She was definitely modest, and her concern was truly always about the horse. And she didn’t give a hoot about whatever somebody would say or do. She took a lot of verbal abuse, even as she would walk her horse to the track.

• What was the most interesting thing you learned about Sylvia?
How she learned how to care for her horses — sort of on her own. She started at age 14 and watched everybody else.

• What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
My philosophy is never, ever, ever give up. And she also never gave up. I never occurred to her. We shared that.

Of all your books, do have a favorite?
I don’t know about a favorite. But this one definitely means the most to me because it was so difficult to accomplish. The research bogged me down. It was a challenge to get to everyone I wanted to. I did other books in between.

• Does writing books get easier?
No. This one was probably more difficult because there were so many moving parts to it. You wouldn’t want to see my piles and boxes of notes and recordings and all that.

• What your next book will be about?
I don’t know. I’m just waiting for that to fall in front of me.

Contact Don Del Rosso at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-0300.
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Lauren Potts · January 28, 2021 at 9:02 am
This is a famous book for both Horses and Men, which are of great value to the people of America. I listened to a podcast on this topic from Foreign Literature Critic and Writer Staffania Mills http://www.divephotoguide.com/user/StephMills who also works with major European book companies. Now there are not many young people who are so eager to study and promote love for their country through literature and historical heritage. What a pity that I never learned to ride a horse.
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