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December 9, 2020

Local author writes about pioneering horse trainer

Contributed Photos
The book cover depicts Sylvia Bishop as a child in her Easter dress on a pony.
Ms. Bishop (second from left in bottom photo) celebrates a 1961 Charles Town win for owner Edward L. Stephenson of Warrenton.
A Fauquier author has just published a book about a trailblazing African American woman who trained race horses.

Sylvia Rideout Bishop Had A Way With Horses chronicles a career that included preparing about 200 steeds for the track — primarily at Charles Town, W.Va., where she lived most of her 84 years.

Ms. Bishop’s clients included the late Nelson Bunker Hunt, a Texas oil baron; the late Edward L. Stephenson, a real estate investor with a home near Warrenton, and the late Tyson Gilpin, a Clarke County patriarch of Virginia’s thoroughbred industry.

Author Vicky Moon weaves her subject’s personal story with political and societal context throughout the hardback book’s 198 pages.

How did Ms. Moon, who has written 10 books, learn about Ms. Bishop?

“I’ll talk to anybody, any time,” Ms. Moon said. “I started talking with a man in line at the convenience store (with the BP gas and McDonald’s Restaurant) in Marshall. We started talking about horses . . . .

“He said, ‘Oh, my aunt trains race horses over in Charles Town. She was the first ever Black woman in the business’.”

That brief conversation in July 2004 led to an introduction and a dozen interviews before Ms. Bishop’s death on Dec. 27 of that year.

Her subject shared with the author notes, suggested contacts with phone numbers, scrapbooks and photos from her life and career.

But, it took Ms. Moon 15 years to finished the exhaustively-researched book. The work took her to the Library of Congress and to the thoroughbred archives in Keeneland, Ky. She traveled between her home near Marshall and condo in Fort Lauderdale with a critical box of notes.

Ultimately, the writer found Ms. Bishop’s success as a woman in horse racing more unusual than her achievements as an African American. Even today, one sees few women working in the business, Ms. Moon said.

Although Ms. Bishop transcended her time, few know about her.

“That story’s known in Charles Town and no farther,” Ms. Moon said.

She hopes the book will help change that. Although she had negotiated a contract with a publishing house, for a variety of reasons, she and husband Leonard Shapiro decided to publish it under Country Zest & Style, their company that publishes a local magazine of the same name.

Horse Country Saddlery in Warrenton carries the book, also available online at $28.

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badelectronics · December 13, 2020 at 4:13 pm
Beautiful lass on a pony.
Thank God for books and history lessons.
May history bless her, kindly.
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