Suzie Picou-Oldham was not your average kid. At just five years of age, while most kids were simply gearing up for kindergarten, learning their ABCs and 123s, Picou-Oldham was focused on the future…her future.
The daughter of Clarence Picou, the nation’s leading apprentice jockey in 1948 who retired from the saddle in 1957 after serving in the Korean War and started his career as a trainer, Suzie grew up around horses, spending every minute she could following her dad around his training barn in Port Arthur, Texas, watching, learning and eventually doing. Suzie often accompanied her father to small tracks where his horses competed in match races.
It was there at a match race, at the ripe old age of five, that Suzie first saw a woman in the irons, piloting horses at the races. That was the day that Suzie decided what she wanted to do with her life. She was going to be a jockey.
The life of a trainer is nomadic, following the racing circuit and constantly traveling to the tracks where one’s horses can best compete. Clarence was often on the road and away from his family, but Suzie joined him whenever she could.
“I grew up working at the track for my father. My brother, two sisters and I would travel to join him at whatever track he was stabled at in the summers after school let out. Instead of Army brats, we were like racetrack brats,” said Suzie.
As the old saying goes, “you can’t run before you can walk.” As Suzie got older, Clarence would put her on his kinder racehorses and ride alongside her on his track pony, teaching her not only how to gallop, but also all of the nuances and finesse that plays into being a good jockey.
“My dad told me if I wanted to be a jockey, I had to graduate from high school, so that was my motivation,” said Suzie. “After graduation I moved to where my dad was and worked for him full time, galloping in the mornings, helping around the barn and in the afternoons at the races.”
Off and Running
It was a cold winter day at Churchill Downs. Suzie had been riding for her father in the mornings for some time now and finally earned the opportunity to ride in her first race.
“My first mount was a filly I’d been learning on and galloping named Sly Liz,” said Suzie. “My dad was a stern teacher, but a good one. He told me how the race was going to shape up and, when the gates opened, I found myself sitting just where he said I would be. We got to the stretch and I was going for the lead. That last eighth of a mile was like a dream. It is very rare to win your first race, but we did!”
Competing in a man’s world was an uphill battle. Many trainers refused to use female jockeys to ride races, which was a constant source of frustration to Suzie. To further complicate the matter, Suzie and her new husband, fellow jockey John Oldham, were not permitted to ride against each other in some racing jurisdictions.
“When we approached the racing stewards at River Downs in Ohio, they said no, that they would not permit us to ride against each other in a race due to what the public may have perceived to be a conflict of interest,” said Suzie.
Not long after, they approached the stewards in Kentucky with the same question, and were relieved when they got a very different response.
“When we approached the Kentucky stewards at Keeneland, they said they didn’t think they could prevent us from riding against one another, and we ended up becoming the first married couple to ride against each other in a race,” said Suzie.
Hanging up Her Tack and Picking up Her Camera
After earning 22 victories in 247 trips to the starting gate, Suzie and her husband were expecting their first child and decided that with the dangers, travel and time constraints involved with race riding, only one of them should continue with that career path.
“I originally bought a nice camera to take photos of my kids,” said Suzie. “I took it out to the track to learn to use it better and taking pictures of racehorses, and figured since everybody likes photos of themselves and their horses, I could sell the photos and make some money.”
Her photography hobby soon became a dependable source of income as trainers, riders and owners sought her out to purchase her pictures.
Once her children were old enough to attend school, Suzie explored career options that could involve her love of and knowledge about horseracing and her photography skills. The Thoroughbred Record, which later evolved into the now-defunct Thoroughbred Times, was eager to bring Suzie on board, and for nearly a decade she worked as an ad executive and photographer for the publication.
Growing up immersed in Thoroughbred racing combined with working for one of the industry’s leading publications groomed Suzie for a unique role in helping to shape future generations of the breed. She left the Thoroughbred Times to work at Dixiana Farm, at the time one of the premier breeding establishments in Kentucky and the world.
There, she oversaw marketing for the farm’s iconic stallions and assisted with matings and season sales. She later went on to do the same for Spendthrift, Stonewall and Darby Dan farms, helping create the breeding legacies for such notable stallions as the late Mr. Greeley and Medaglia d’Oro, one of the world’s premier sires and father to Horse of the Year and fan favorite Rachel Alexandra, among others.
Throughout the years she has continued as a photographer, with her work appearing in nearly every national Thoroughbred publication, as well as several prominent international publications.
Focusing on the Next Generation of Thoroughbred Owners
Today Suzie works at The Jockey Club’s new owners initiative, Thoroughbred OwnerView, where she helps those new to or considering Thoroughbred ownership to learn about the business through maintenance of their website, OwnerView.com, and the organizing of new owners conferences, where she assists in developing speaker panels and overall event logistics.
“As time has gone by, the future of the industry has become more and more important to me,” said Suzie. “The idea behind the website and the conferences is to share information about Thoroughbred ownership and horseracing and to bring new people into the sport. That was an idea I could jump right into and I’ve been loving it for two-and-a-half years now.”
Suzie’s passion for the Thoroughbred business comes across in everything she does and her vast experience has helped countless newcomers navigate their way through their first forays with racehorse ownership. Often, she recommends people interested in owning a racehorse first invest in a syndicate or partnership, where they can own a percentage of a horse that is managed by someone with considerable experience in racehorse ownership.
“The first time you walk into the winner’s circle, whether it’s for a $5,000 claiming race or a race someone is going to hand you some flowers for, it’s an experience you’re going to want to have again and again,” said Suzie. “Wonderful things are happening in our industry and I love sharing experiences and helping to guide newcomers in the right direction to enjoy the sport of horseracing.”•