Show jumper Donna Cheek breaks barriers

Donna Cheek, a groundbreaking equestrian who has competed in competitions around the world, will receive the inaugural Trailblazer Courage Award at the Women’s Sports Museum Gala on Oct. 20, 2017, in Sarasota, Florida.

cheek-240x300
Donna Cheek is an award-winning equestrian.
(PHOTO PROVIDED)

Cheek has been riding and competing as a hunter/jumper for 45 years.

In 1981, she represented the United States in Mexico City for the American Junior Show Jumping Championships, which was the first time an African American rider, male or female, had ever ridden for the U.S. Internationally in Show Jumping history.

She has won many awards within and outside of the horse industry and was the first equestrian to be inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Distinction in Cincinnati, Ohio.

She closed her private horse training facility in Paso Robles, California, after a successful eight-year run to be a contributing host on KCBX public radio, Animal Issue and Ideas. She left the station to work as a consultant and animal trainer for Hollywood Motion Picture Experience. She has recently joined the team as a rider and demonstrator for the Epona Institute, the leader in Equine Biomechanics & Hoof Health Research.

Earlier in her career, Cheek represented Adolph Coors as a member of the Outstanding Talent Family, which toured the United States performing as an exhibition rider and lecturing at inner city schools.

In addition, she represented Nabisco Brands Inc. as a motivational speaker to youth groups and women’s organizations. In 1994 NBC Television aired “One More Hurdle,” the Donna Cheek story in which she starred. The after school special earned an N.A.A.C.P. Image Award and also a Bronze Halo Award.

She joins broadcaster and sports journalist Lesley Visser, who was earlier named the recipient of the Inaugural Visionary Trailblazer award. 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERADonna Cheek. (PHOTO PROVIDED)

Source: Women’s Sports Museum
http://www.womenssportsmuseum.org/equestrian-donna-cheek-to-receive-courage-award-at-gala/

 

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Jockey Cheryl White: Broke Racial Barriers for African Americans in Horse Racing

cheryl-whiteA little-known fact is Cheryl White was a jockey “gem” that most people never knew existed. She raced horses like only a few of the best did during that time. During the time White was racing horses, there were not too many African-American jockeys. But, despite the lack of blacks in the profession, White went on to become one of the first black female jockeys to win five thoroughbred races in “one day” at a major track. She made her mark while riding her mother’s horse, Ace Reward.

It was tough for black jockeys but harder for females and especially African American women. In White’s 21 years of racing, she won 750 races. At one point, she held a five-time winning streak at Appaloosa. In 1990, she was presented an Award of Merit by the African-American Sports Hall of Fame.

White’s license was suspended after it was discovered that she made a $2 bet while working as an official. She attended Gamblers Anonymous and exercised horses to support herself during her suspension. In 1990, she was presented an Award of Merit by the African-American Sports Hall of Fame. In 1991, White passed the California Horse Racing Board’s Steward Examination. She has since served as a racing official at various track location. Lexington, Kentucky will honor African-Americans in racing in their new park, White will be included.

Source: Black Then – Discovering our history
http://blackthen.stfi.re/jockey-cheryl-white-broke-racial-barriers-for-african-americans-in-horse-racing/?sf=yjndpgb#aa

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One To Watch: Mavis Spencer Has Gone From Grooming To Grand Prix

Four years ago, Mavis Spencer was at the in-gate of the Saturday night grand prix classes of the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.), but she had a towel in her back pocket, was holding a lead shank, and was giving a leg up to a rider.

Fast forward a few years, and Spencer was the one getting the leg up. The 25-year-old just jumped in her first Saturday night WEF grand prix on Jan. 22 and ended up placing eighth in the $86,000 Marshall & Sterling Grand Prix aboard Cornetiero with a clean trip in Round 1 and 8 faults in the jump-off. “I came out of the ring, and I was almost in tears,” she said.


Mavis Spencer on Cornetiero in the $86,000 Marshall & Sterling Grand Prix at WEF on Jan. 22. Photo by Sportfot

“I’m totally pinching myself,” she continued. “If you had asked me a few weeks ago what my goals were, I would have said to jump in a Saturday night before the end of Wellington, and to have it be Week 2 and I’ve done it and jumped clear—it’s just amazing. I’m just taking it as it comes and enjoying the ride.”

It’s definitely not where Spencer expected to find herself when she graduated from the junior ranks in 2009. She’d had a successful junior jumper career riding with Dick Carvin and Francie Steinwedell-Carvin in California, but when she told her parents she wanted to make horses her career, they wanted her to support herself. “It wasn’t an ultimatum or negative at all, but they basically were like, ‘If you think horses are going to be your life and your profession, you need to go out and do it in a way that you immerse yourself in it and appreciate it,’ ” she said. “So, I sold my junior jumper, and they were like, ‘OK, good luck! Find a way to do it!’

“For sure when I was young, my dream was to go to the Olympics and represent the United States and all that,” she added. “But at a certain point, you get more realistic about your goals.”

So, Spencer took a job grooming for Kent Farrington and worked for him for three years. She rode a bit but could also be found mucking stalls, loading shavings, holding horses at the ring, and everything else a groom does. In the summer of 2012, she accompanied Farrington to Europe with a few horses and got to experience some top shows over there.


Mavis Spencer’s (left) road to grand prix included years of work as a groom. Photo courtesy of Mavis Spencer

“Even when I was working for Kent, if I had a horse of my own, I had to pay all the bills and take care of it. I was always involved when I was a junior, but I think just turning 18 and having to fully support yourself, it really makes you realize if you really want to do it or not, and obviously I did,” she said.

“For me, even though taking a step back and grooming meant I couldn’t really ride and show anymore, it never seemed to me like a downgrade. I just figured I was getting new experience and education. I got to go to Europe and work at some amazing shows with Kent. Every experience is a good experience is how I look at it.”

In the fall of 2012, Spencer decided to help Darragh Kenny get his Oakland Ventures business up and running and joined him as barn manager, working there for two years. By this time, she was spending all her time on the ground, as a shoulder injury from her junior years was causing problems when she rode.


Mavis Spencer spent years at the grand prix ring holding horses and giving other riders a leg up. Photo courtesy of Mavis Spencer

Then, in 2014, she signed on to groom for top horse dealer Neil Jones and his rider at the time, Lorenzo de Luca. She groomed for de Luca when he jumped for the Italian team at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (France). But when de Luca got hurt, Spencer got the chance to get back in the saddle. “Lorenzo said, ‘Oh, you can ride my horses while I’m recovering.’ I remember walking into the barn one day and seeing the list on the board for a training show on a Tuesday. And I had like six grand prix horses under my name,” Spencer said. “I was like, ‘I’m just your groom. I’m not sure I want to take your five-star grand prix horses to a training show.’ ”

But the show went well, and Jones had Spencer step up to ride many of the sales horses even when de Luca was back riding. The plan for the 2015 WEF was to have Spencer show the younger horses while de Luca rode the grand prix horses. But then in December 2014, de Luca took a job riding for Stephex Stables, and his grand prix horses shipped to Florida to be ridden by Spencer. “Suddenly I was thrown into the fire in Florida with like 15 horses to show!” she recalled. “Everyone was making jokes with Neil like, ‘Wow, your groom rides really well!’ ”

That WEF, she mostly stuck to the small classes, jumping in a few 1.45-meter classes. But over the summer of 2015, she got valuable experience jumping in two-star shows in England. By the fall of 2016, she moved up to the 1.50-meter level and jumped in her first World Cup qualifier in Del Mar, Calif., in October aboard Dubai.

“I’m looking forward to keeping going with Dubai,” she said. “He was owned by the Collinses and Neil as well, and a few people were interested in buying him after the World Cup class. I thought he was going to get sold, but Sarah Ryan stepped up to buy him to help keep him for me, so it’ll be nice to have one to keep developing.”

But for Spencer’s WEF Saturday night debut, she tacked up Cornetiero, a horse she had cared for when de Luca rode him. “When I started riding again, he was one I wasn’t sure about, because he was difficult and a little bit hot and opinionated,” she said. She showed Cornetiero in 2015, but then Katharina Offel and Sofia Westborg showed him for a few months in 2016. Spencer got the ride back on the 11-year-old Westphalian gelding in September, and they jumped their first 1.50-meter class together in October.

“When I first started riding him, I kind of said, ‘I think this is a little too much horse for me.’ But we’ve grown together,” she said. “I think having taken care of him made me more able to ride him when I had that chance. He’s the first horse I took in bigger classes. He’s my security blanket, kind of, which is funny because he’s special in so many ways.”

Spencer doesn’t think her riding skills suffered at all in the years she focused on just grooming. “When I started riding again, it felt like because I’d been at the ring and watching all the top riders it actually helped me, because I’d been soaking it all in,” she said. “You may not actually realize it when you’re not riding, but I think it made a big difference in my growth and knowledge.”


Mavis Spencer is pinching herself at joining the ranks of Saturday night grand prix riders at WEF. Photo by Sportfot

And she’s a very hands-on rider after having been the one on the other side of things. “Even now, if my groom takes the day off, I’ll come in and do all my horses myself. I like being hands-on. At the end of the day, you can’t jump in the biggest classes and not be aware of how your horse is feeling or if their leg is a bit bigger from one day to the next. It’s just the complete package,” she said.

And Spencer knows she has the backing of Jones and his whole team of owners and staff. “To be where I am now, I have a lot to thank Neil and my horses’ owners for that,” she said. “It makes all the difference. At the end of the day, even if I’m a little uncomfortable because it’s something that’s not necessarily within my comfort zone, I know Neil is never going to ask me to do something that I’d fail at. So there’s a lot of comfort in knowing that even if it’s not something that I would push myself to do, he’s always there getting me to do a bit more and do it a bit better.”


Mavis Spencer and Neil Jones. Photo by Herve Bonnaud

Spencer noted that when she first got back into the tack, her focus for Jones was very much sales horses. But as she proved she could develop horses to the top level, Jones and his group of owners supported her in that endeavor, too.

“That’s the one aspect of it that still feels surreal to me—the group of people who work for Neil and who own horses for him who have supported me,” she said. “I know they understand that it’s a learning curve for me as well. It’s amazing to have people have that kind of confidence in me. It means the world of difference that I can go into my first Saturday night on a good horse. I never really thought I was going to go clear, but with all the support, when you have that much faith behind you, it definitely helps. It’s incredible.”

And, her biggest cheering section is the group of people with towels and shanks in their hands. “It’s nice because all the friends I groomed with are so happy for me and keep up with the results and text me and cheer for me,” she said. “And so many of the riders have been so supportive. If I’m walking the course, they’ll come over and make sure I’ve got my plan or ask if I need help. If I’m in the warm-up and on my own, they’ll help out. It’s been very nice knowing that I have a bunch of people behind me.”

Source: http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/one-watch-mavis-spencer-has-gone-grooming-grand-prix

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Forbes Africa Reveals 30 under 30

  1. Uneku Atawodi,28, Nigeria

Founder: Bamboo Green Concepts

Forbes-Africa-June-2016-CoverAtawodi has lived the good life. She spent most of her life playing professional polo for brands in over 22 cities around the world. When she was 21, she launched Bamboo Green Concepts, an investment outfit with a diversified portfolio, with the help of her father.  Bamboo Green Concepts owns Bamboo House, a boutique hotel and lounge in the heart of Abuja. Bamboo evolved into what Atawodi loves most; a place where people can play polo. She partnered with SuperSport to bring polo to television across Africa. She constructed the bamboo polo arena on the beach in Lagos.

Her experience raising funds to launch the arena, and the difficulty for SMEs to access finance, led her to launch Africa’s first equity crowdfunding platform, Malaik. Malaik closed its first $300,000 deal within two months of launching, and is currently raising its own seven-figure round to help connect more global investors with high impact investment opportunities in Africa.

She employs 67 full-time staff and over 100 part-time staff.

Source: Forbes Africa
http://www.forbes.com/sites/kerryadolan/2016/06/06/africas-most-promising-entrepreneurs-forbes-africas-30-under-30-for-2016/#19573b1b3acf

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Meet the 1st Black Woman Pro Polo Player

Nigerian polo player Neku Atawodi seeks to level the playing field

�Lo Life: Meet the 1st Black Woman Pro Polo Player<br />

Polo equestrian extraordinaire Neku Atawodi

When Uneku Saliu-Atawodi started Ride to Shine—a charity that trains orphans in Nigeria to play polo and compete for prize money to endow its education fund—she says most of her fellow players supported the cause. “You know, just lending me horses, some signing on to sponsor specific kids’ academic careers,” she explained. “But there’s always that tiny 10%.”

Referring to the small subset of Nigeria’s elite that would prefer the country’s polo fields remain “an old boys’ club,” the 26-year-old (who goes by Neku) says she faced some resistance. “It’s weird to me, ’cause it’s children, you know?”

The daughter of a fighter pilot who represented Nigeria around the world, Atawodi grew up among a globetrotting, moneyed set. Born in Nigeria and raised in the northwestern state of Kaduna where she first learned to play polo, she moved to Pakistan, then Brazil with her family. In England, she earned her degree in equestrian science and a British Horse Society stage 4 riding accreditation, which certifies her to manage fields and stables and care for multiple horses. She currently owns the boutique Bamboo Hotel in Abuja, among other holdings.

While Atawodi says that many of her contemporaries got into polo for “status,” her nomadic childhood and affinity for horses sparked her passion for the sport. She thinks exclusionary attitudes about who should and shouldn’t be playing are shortsighted.

With 61% of the nation’s 172 million citizens living on less than one dollar a day, if the mentality remains only billionaires can play polo, the sport cannot grow. The clubs and fields will eventually shut down. The revenue polo generates will be cut off too.

“We raised $200,000 in, like, two hours,” Atawodi says, offering a bygone polo exhibition as an example of the sport’s fundraising capacity. The Ride to Shine model trains talented kids to compete in polo exhibitions, with monies raised from corporate sponsors going into a trust fund.

“Whether we choose you to ride or not, or whether you’re part of it,” she explains, “if you want to go and study in Harvard, but you can’t pay for it, you can apply to the Ride to Shine Trust Fund.”

Atawodi speaks of the endowment being open to any West African child in need, but just seeking consensus across Nigeria has been difficult enough. “I’ve been trying to get the Ministry of Sports to acknowledge equestrian sports as part of our sporting constitution,” she explains. “And to do that you have to… convince every sporting commissioner.” Each of Nigeria’s 36 states has a different sporting commissioner.

Working to create policy with Nigeria’s government hasn’t given Neku Atawodi immunity from what she calls the “extreme bureaucracy” of civil service. “That file might be sat there just for weeks before someone signs it, and then moves it to the next place,” she says.

When conversation veers to Nigeria’s government, Atawodi chooses her words carefully. Her father is now a politician, and in her own capacity as a government employee and Ride to Shine founder, she’s increasingly cast in the role of armchair ambassador.

“Before, it was just, ‘We just want to talk to you about your polo,’ ” she says. But a mantle has come with the opportunities she’s sought out to spread the word. “You’re always thinking, ‘Am I saying the right thing?’ ” But she’s learning to take advantage of her platform.

Citing inspiration from the #BringBackOurGirls campaign—which used a hashtag to raise international awareness about 276 girls kidnapped from their school, and by extension, the terror that has plagued Nigeria for years—she says, “I was so, so impressed with my [generation]. We came together and created a voice, and that voice got the international community to start racking on about it. And it put a fire under the government to just act quicker and move files quicker. It created, like, a catalyst. So they’re acting, and it’s good to see.”

Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond is the author of Powder Necklace. Named among the 39 most promising African writers under 39, her work will be featured in the forthcoming anthology Africa39.

Author: by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond,
Ebony Magazine

http://www.ebony.com/entertainment-culture/lo-life-meet-the1st-black-woman-pro-polo-player-111#axzz3CM8S40rs

 

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Five facts about Uneku Atawodi (Polo)

Five facts about Uneku Atawodi, only black woman in professional polo

UNEKUDespite her popularity among the elite polo-playing class, she is little known outside the sport. This is not only because polo is largely a man’s sport but also in large part due to the fact that the sport only enjoys fringe media coverage, a fraction of the huge media spotlight that sports like football and basketball enjoy globally.

Below are five highpoints of the polo journey of Uneku Atawodi, the only black woman in the world playing the game professionally.

UNEKU11

Unable to enlist the support of Mum and Dad
Uneku was only 16 when she informed her parents of her interest in playing polo professionally. They would have none of it. After failing to dissuade her from it, they stopped footing the bill for the maintenance of her horses in the hope that she would give up the sport.

Paying her way through the sport, the hard way
It was a defiantly determined Uneku who turned up at England’s Epsom Club, asking its managers for a job as the stable mucker — a role she bluntly describes as “packing horse shit”. For someone of her silver-spoon background who grew up as a regular face at the elite Kaduna Polo Club, cleaning up after horses to realize the ambition of playing polo must have been hard to stomach. Well, the shovels showed no mercy either while she cleaned the stables; and she had to resort to wearing double gloves to prevent the shovels from ripping off her skin.

UNEKU17

Handling shock
Even though she’s been a professional polo players for several years, she still has to contend with the occasional shock from people who are surprised to find a woman in the game. But this is a situation she deals with comfortably. “I understand that it is new and different to people,” she says. “I’m happy to patiently explain to them the diverse and expanding world of polo”.

Contending with the occasional racist remark
She is yet to experience racism in a sport closely associated with European royalty but says there have been occasional race-related surprise encounters. Once, during a game in Argentina where the game originated, she sought clarification from an assistant on the color of team jersey she would receive. “What color am I?” she asked the assistant, who then replied, “’you’re black”.

Realizing the enormity of those words, the assistant quickly apologized, explaining that she meant “black” because of her utter shock at seeing a black girl play — not in a racist way.

Empowering the poor to play
Polo is a game for the rich — not just the rich but the stupendously rich. As a rich Nigerian once remarked, “Polo is the game of kings, so it costs a lot… it takes money out of your pocket but you keep playing because you love this beautiful game”. With riding boots alone costing $800, polo is unarguably a tough call for many, in a Nigeria where millions live below the poverty line.

Yet, Uneku Atawodi wants to nurture polo players among the financially challenged. This is the essence of Ride to Shine, an NGO which she has founded to help provide orphans, access to the game. The ultimate target, she says, is to encourage the kids “to dream as big as they want to and empower them with the means to see those dreams come to life.”

UNEKU14

Source: MTN Platinum Plus

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Johnson first black American to win major grand prix

WELLINGTON — March 22 2015 – Paige Johnson recorded a milestone victory late Saturday night in the $127,000 Engel & Volkers Grand Prix at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.

Johnson, 29, of Wellington and Middleburg, Va., became the first black American to win a major grand prix in WEF history.

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 10.29.51 AMJohnson and her 12-year-old Belgian warmblood mare Dakota clinched the four-rider jump-off with the fastest clear round of 47.47 seconds and pocketed $41,910, her biggest paycheck in show jumping.

Johnson finished ahead of her trainer of three years, Kent Farrington and 9-year-old Belgian warmblood mare Gazelle, the only other clear team in 47.95.

“This is a huge moment,” Farrington said. “I am really excited for her tonight. She has had a great season. To see Paige have the biggest win of her career tonight was huge.

“We started a couple of years ago and set out on some goals, and we are slowly checking them off one at a time. This was a big one tonight.”

Johnson, the daughter of BET founders Robert and Sheila Johnson, has been a competitive rider since she was 5, training in Florida and Virginia. She also won the $34,000 Ruby et Violette WEF Challenge Cup this season.

“I came into this circuit hoping to win a WEF and I did that week six,” Paige Johnson said. “My next goal was to win a grand prix. I had no idea it would happen the same season. You can imagine that I am super excited and happy. Kent is my trainer, so it feels like the hard work, the team and everything around us is really paying off and that is a great feeling.”

Johnson is the 10th different rider to win a “Saturday Night Lights” grand prix event this season.

Canadian Olympic gold medalist Eric Lamaze has dominated the Thursday Ruby et Violette WEF Challenge Cup events, winning a record five, including four consecutive titles. His most recent victory was Thursday with 12-year-old Hanoverian mare Fine Lady 5. The pair had a clear jump-off round in 34.47.

On Sunday, Farrington came back to win the $85,000 Suncast 1.50-meter Championship Jumper Classic with Waomi in a clear round of 38.18 seconds on the Derby Field at The Stadium.

Adrienne Sternlicht, 21, and Quidam MB won the $50,000 Artisan Farms Under-25 Grand Prix Final, and Lucy Deslauriers, 15, was crowned overall series winner, two days after winning the George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation Championship.

The 12-week WEF circuit, featuring $8.2 million in prize money, winds up this week with events Wednesday through Sunday, including the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI 5 Saturday at 7 p.m.

Source:

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/sports/equestrian/johnson-first-black-american-to-win-major-grand-pr/nkcZJ/

Grand Prix Winner Paige Johnson Prepares for GCT Miami

 March 23, 2015

What is it like to compete on the Global Champions Tour? Horse & Style asked grand prix rider Paige Johnson, a regular on the GCT circuit, why she makes a special effort to participate in one of the world’s best show jumping tours.

Johnson, who just notched the biggest win of her career this past Saturday night in the $127,000 Engel & Volkers Grand Prix CSI4* during the Winter Equestrian Festival’s Week 11, is a lifelong rider who trains with Kent Farrington out of her family’s Salamander Farm in Wellington, FL and The Plains, VA. She remembers visiting the Global Champions Tour at Valkenswaard, The Netherlands, as a teenager, and being wowed by the experience. “I was 15 and I remember calling my mom from the show and telling her I couldn’t believe how amazing it was,” Johnson recalls. “Just to see how [the GCT] has grown since then and how many locations it is in now is incredible.”

Johnson competed in London, England last year at the GCT Horse Guards Parade venue, and is excited to compete at GCT stop in Paris, France for the first time this season.

“It takes you to places you never thought you’d be competing,” she says. “Jan Tops and his entire team at the GCT are visionaries in that aspect. The VIPs are beautifully crafted, the shows are so well run and the atmosphere is fantastic. It truly is another league.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 10.28.31 AMTop and above, Johnson competes at GCT London, summer 2014

With the WEF Week 11 grand prix win under her belt, Johnson is looking forward to competing at the GCT Miami more than ever. The tour will make its US debut in Miami from April 2 -4 with a spectacular venue right on Miami beach. “It’s definitely going to be a nice change of scenery!” Johnson jokes. “Who would have thought we’d be having a horse show right on the beach. And the timing in really smart. For the riders who are doing the World Cup [Final, April 15-19 in Last Vegas, NV], they can set themselves up for indoors. It’s a great transitional show for them.”

Not to mention, an amazing opportunity to watch the best in the world compete. That’s one of Johnson’s favorite things about the GCT. The quality of riders who flock to the tour’s 15 stops are unmatched, and for Johnson, just being around them, not to mention riding against them, is inspiring in itself.

With just two weeks to go until the 2015 Global Champions Tour kicks off in Miami, Johnson is taking the time to rest her top mount Dakota, a 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare. Dakota carried Johnson to the win in the Engel and Volkers Grand Prix, giving them both an essential boost of confidence before they tackle the brand new venue in Miami. The countdown is on.

Source: http://horseandstylemag.com/mosiac/grand-prix-winner-paige-johnson-prepares-for-gct-miami.html

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