Some are born into horse racing and others are just drawn to it. The latter was the case for Mary Bontrager, a 27 year old mom of a 4 year old and now licensed jockey with the Idaho Racing Commission.
Mary was born and raised in Blountstown, Florida. Adopted by a single dad, he recognized her love for horses and when she was 10 years old began taking her to weekly English horseback riding lessons two hours away. After a year of riding, they moved to Pocatello, Idaho.
While not a state that is often on the radar as far as horse racing goes, she went to Pocatello Downs with her friend, Janet Faccia, and she was hooked. Faccia was a gallop girl herself and had been working at Sandy Downs and Pocatello at the time. She took Mary to the track with her and Mary was put on a horse by a trainer that day. From that moment, she was hooked.
As with many girls and horseback riding, life often happens and just sort of gets in the way. She fell away from galloping, but decided to come back after she had her daughter, Ariel, in 2017. She started back as a groom, until one day she got the chance to ride again. A trainer said he was tired, but still had one more to work. Mary offered to take it and he gave her a leg up. She rode for him for a year, galloping and helping to break babies.
Being a mom and working on the backside is not an easy life and she once again fell away from working at the track. But, at the beginning of 2020 her life was turned upside down. Mary found herself homeless without a job and a three year old little girl.
But horse girls are often underestimated. They have a certain determination about them and Mary decided she would chase her dream after all with her daughter by her side. She traveled around the country with racehorses and her little girl, going to California, Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming and back to Idaho.
Over the last year she has been able to support her small family as an exercise rider. It wasn't easy, but she was determined to see it through.
Now, at 27 years old and as a single mom, she has achieved her dream receiving her jockey license. More importantly, she's showing her daughter that hard work makes dreams come true. You may be told "no" by some people, but that doesn't have to stop you.