Jockey’s Personal Plan: Peace Through Speed
On her early morning rides, Twei Lian-Reavey is at peace.
Atop a horse, she does not think about her sister, who was injured in a riding accident or that she is one of the few women in the male-dominated jockey field. She blocks it all out, listening only to the steady clop of her horse’s gallop and her heart beat.
“There is nothing that compares to riding a horse,” Lian-Reavey said. “All my worries are gone and all I think about is riding fast.” Lian-Reavey, 36, has overcome physical challenges and personal tragedy to become a full-time jockey at Los Alamitos.
But living in Monrovia with her husband, Tim, an assistant trainer at Santa Anita Race Track, and 9-year-old stepson Austen, Lian-Reavey has found being a wife and mother more difficult than training a horse.
“I’m definitely a lot more tired lately,” Lian-Reavey said.
Lian-Reavey was born in Burma, now Myanmar, the oldest of three children of a Burmese ambassador. The family moved where their father was assigned: France and Egypt, but moved to Cataret, Wash., where Lian-Reavey’s uncle lived and her mother, a doctor, got a job.
Lian-Reavey, then 15, did everything but ride horses.
“I used to dream of being a rocket scientist or a math teacher,” Lian-Reavey said. “I also dreamed of becoming a concert pianist. I love to play Chopin.”
She was introduced to horse racing by reading Walter Farley novels as a child, but never had contact with horses until an associate of her mother’s at the hospital took them to a race track where a horse he owned was racing.
“I was really drawn to work with horses,” Lian-Reavey said. “Horses are very sensitive animals. They respond to soft hands and a soothing voice.”
But like race horses, Lian-Reavey believed her blood lines would dictate her future. The maternal side of her family was steeped in medicine, dating back to her great-grandfather. Lian-Reavey’s younger brother also became a doctor. So she ignored her instant passion for horses and focused on academics.
As a high school junior, she scored in the top 1% on the SAT and earned scholarship offers from Yale, Harvard and Georgetown. But Lian-Reavey decided to attend Washington and major in biochemical engineering.
“Basically, I wanted to stay close to home,” said Lian-Reavey, who speaks French and a Burmese dialect called Chin. “I was still going through culture shock at the time.”
College life did not appeal to Lian-Reavey, who dropped out after her sophomore year and took a job as a claims examiner for an insurance company in Washington. Two years later, the insurance company relocated to California, leaving Lian-Reavey with a choice of moving or accepting a severance check.
“It [the check] gave me the opportunity to take a chance,” she said.
She took a job as a groomer at a horse training center in Yakima, and befriended people who taught her to ride. She helped train horses between brush strokes and eventually picked up the mechanics.
“I fell off [horses] so much that year,” Lian-Reavey said. “I didn’t grow up riding, but people were willing to teach me all the little things, like the right way to hold the reins.”
After only a year of training, Lian-Reavey began racing at Yakima Meadows.
“I won five races my first night, but I couldn’t enjoy it,” Lian-Reavey said. “I was sick with pneumonia or something and was real feverish.”
Following her big sister’s example, Em decided to work with horses. She became a trainer’s assistant at Santa Anita Park and was working her way up through the thoroughbred ranks.
Five years ago this weekend, Em was exercising a horse, when its polo wrappings [the wrappings around the legs] unraveled. The horse tripped, throwing Em and landing on top of her, breaking her back and leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.
Lian-Reavey was in Southern California visiting her sister, but was not at the track that day. Joe Steiner, a family friend, phoned with the news. Lian-Reavey was devastated, but has learned from it.
“At first I asked, ‘Why, God?’ but my sister has become a stronger person and I have drawn strength from her,” Lian-Reavey said. “My parents wanted me to quit after the accident, but I told them that I can’t go on living worrying about dying.”
Lian-Reavey only planned a three-week visit to Southern California, but it turned out to be 3 1/2 years. After meeting with some trainers who offered her the chance to ride in the area, Lian-Reavey decided to stick around. She also met her future husband.
This year, her first full meet at Los Alamitos after a 3 1/2-year layoff because of shoulder injuries, Lian-Reavey has won three of 25 races. But the wins and losses are simply numbers to her. Lian-Reavey has seen much of the world and knows what it feels like to have it all crash down.
“I don’t take things for granted,” she said.
Trainer Rodney Reed announced he will ship 75 of his horses from his stables in Oklahoma to Los Alamitos, where he will maintain a barn beginning in mid-July.
A native of Wapanucka, Okla., Reed saddled 87 winning horses last year--the fourth-best total in the country--and claimed more than $730,000 in prize money, which was seventh best.
In 1996, Reed led all trainers in earnings and victories at Remington Park in Oklahoma City, where Rakin in the Cash won more than $450,000 in the Heritage Place Futurity.
Reed has also won the Blue Ribbon Futurity a record five times and the Blue Ribbon Derby a record four times at Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw, Okla.
A new horse has raised her mane on the Los Alamitos training grounds. Quick Moon Sign, last year’s winner of the $140,000 Blue Ribbon Futurity, has arrived with her trainer Connie Hall, who expects the horse to stack up well against other 3-year-old fillies.
“She arrived here three weeks ago and has been training extremely well,” Hall said. “She’s eligible for the Los Alamitos Derby [Nov. 1] and the Southern California Derby [Dec. 18], but we’ll [also] race her in some of the stakes races for fillies.”