November 25th Meeting
“Horse Racing: A Family Affair”
On Monday, November 25th, Joyce Church, retired teacher and former girl jockey will present the program, “Horse Racing: A Family Affair,” to Sumner County Historical and Genealogical Society members and guests at 6:30 p.m., at the Wellington Senior Center, 308 S. Washington, Wellington. Visitors are welcome; no charge for the program. For possible weather cancellations, contact SCHGS President Jane Moore at 620-447-3266.
In 1946, wearing maroon and pink racing silks, a skullcap, and wielding a bat, fourteen-year-old Joyce Riggs Church began her short career as a ‘bush’ jockey, racing her father’s thoroughbreds on small ‘bush’ tracks. Church and her sister raced in several Kansas towns, including their home town of Conway Springs, Anthony, Burden, Garden City, Emporia, and many other towns in Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, New Mexico, Missouri and Illinois.
Church, a genealogist, was surprised to find that breeding horses and racing them was ‘in their genes.’ Her research turned up that not only had her grandfather bred and sold mules by the train car load, ancestors before him had also bred mules and pacing and trotting horses.
“Dad grew up in that atmosphere,” Church said, adding that it was her father’s dream to breed and race thoroughbreds and after her folks bought four colts and a stallion from a man in Fairfax, Oklahoma, her father needed jockeys, so he enlisted the help of his two daughters.
“Mother never wanted us to ride,” Church said, adding that although her father allowed them to race, her parents were very protective and she and her sister were not allowed to hang out with other jockeys in the barns where there was drinking and gambling.
“Racing was a family affair,” Church said, adding that the entire family traveled to the races with the horses. The horses traveled in the back of a wheat truck, and her mother drove the car.
Church said that her mother packed picnic baskets with fried chicken and cherry pie, and the family picnicked on the race track grounds, and often spent the night in the back of the wheat truck with a tarp strung over the stock racks to keep off the rain.
Although Church went off to college when she was 16 years old, she came home on weekends to race, and at times lived at home and drove back and forth to school at Friends so that she could continue to ride. Church stopped racing when she was twenty-nine years old, and married in 1963.
“Before that, I ran around so much I didn't have time to get married,” Church said.
Church said she “had had some accidents,” and been knocked out and taken to the hospital by ambulance, but had never broken a bone. But Church added that 1976 was a bad year for the Riggs family when her sister was killed in June at Churchill Downs at the age of 37, and her father died later that year.
Church will bring photographs and other racing memorabilia to share with the group, as well as the book “The Boys From the Bushes” by Lou Dean, a book about ‘bush racing’ that shares stories from Church and other ‘Bush’ jockeys.