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Donna Brothers shares advice, wisdom, experiences and love of horses with Women’s Initiatives audience

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

Donna Brothers earned her celebrity as a leading female jockey, as an NBC racing reporter on horseback, and as a writer and humanitarian. On Thursday she proved her story-telling skills at the NKY Chamber Women’s Initiatives 15th annual breakfast before a full house of 800 at the Turfway event center.

In a warm and meaningful speech, “Unbridled Strength: Women in Motion,” Brothers shared her life’s journey from a difficult, impoverished childhood to success – and uplifted her audience with a lot of wisdom along the way.

The central figure in her story, as it unfolded, was her mother. Patti Barton was one of the first women to be licensed as a jockey in the U.S. in 1969 and retired from racing in 1984 with just over 1,200 wins (Patty Cooksey broke Patti Barton’s win record at Turfway, after Barton’s retirement). Early in Patti’s life, she was a rodeo trick rider and took any job – including selling encyclopedias door-to-door – to pay the bills. The first of her four husbands – and the father of her three children – took her to New Mexico to live with his family. It was there that the family eventually broke up and Patti Barton left her children behind with their father and grandmother.

Photos Donna Brothers shared with the audience: Her mom as a trick rider, that’s Donna on the pony with her sister, mom and three kids, Donna, mom ready for the jockey’s room with her two daughters.

Donna likened the experience to the advice you get on an airplane: “Put your own oxygen mask on first” before you try to help others. Her mom knew she had to fix herself first (and escape a bad marriage) before she could help her kids. Donna, her older sister and younger brother, all reunited with their mom four years later, saw their mom get her college degree and become a success in male-dominated racing.

She shared her mother’s sage advice:

“The way you do anything is the way you do everything.”

“If you don’t see the inspiration, be it.”

“Fully provide for yourself before you can provide for others.”

“Don’t blame the teacher. It’s not their job to please you.”

“If you focus on the obstacle, you cannot focus on the solution.”

Donna said her mother taught her childen to (1) believe in God – or some higher power, (2) believe in yourself, (3) acknowledge that there is right and wrong – and expect to do right, and (4) there are consequences.

When Donna decided to follow in her mom’s boot steps in 1987, she followed her mom’s teachings as well and embraced her own: “People want to help. Don’t be afraid to ask.”

A jockey learns to “take criticism on the chin,” she said – and also learns to watch the race re-runs to always figure out what could be done better.

Donna retired in 1998 and started her career in broadcasting, making a name for herself interviewing jockeys before and after races while on horseback. She has covered everything from horse racing, show jumping, dressage, eventing, and bull riding and has been a sports analyst and commentator for all the major thoroughbred races.

Donna — interviewing a jockey for NBC (Photo provided)

She has written a book, “Inside Track: Insider’s Guide to Horse Racing,” which has had multiple printings.

She calls Kentucky home and has been married to Frank Brothers for over 25 years. Today, she is client relations manager for Starlight and StarLadies Racing, remains an active ambassador for horse racing, and is involved in thoroughbred aftercare and backstetch resource services.

All in all, through the engaging stories of her upbringing, the challenges of her chosen career, her shared wisdom and down-to-earth advice, and her incredible achievements, Donna Brothers was the perfect speaker for the Women’s Initiative’s 15th anniversary – held in a place where thoroughbreds were having their morning workouts on the track in view of the attendees.

Women’s Initiative Awards

The Women’s Initiatve Spirit of Achievement Award was presented to Barbara Moran Johnson of Wells Fargo Advisors for her long, tireless, and committed volunteerism with the organization.

Receiving the Nonprofit Award – and a $1000 check from Dinsmore & Shohl – was the Children’s Law Center.

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