Friday, May. 31, 2024

Mary Motion Is Fast Forwarding To Fame

With racing in her blood, this teenager has jumped from a NAPPA junior race standout to a successful point-to-point jockey.

As Mary Motion walked downstairs on Christmas morning in 2008, she noticed a strange sight.

“There was a card on the Christmas tree, and a ribbon was attached to it,” she said. “The ribbon went out the window, across the lawn, all the way to a stall.”

Standing in the stall was a 15-hand dark bay Thoroughbred. In that instant, the 14-year-old knew that Orpington was hers.

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With racing in her blood, this teenager has jumped from a NAPPA junior race standout to a successful point-to-point jockey.

As Mary Motion walked downstairs on Christmas morning in 2008, she noticed a strange sight.

“There was a card on the Christmas tree, and a ribbon was attached to it,” she said. “The ribbon went out the window, across the lawn, all the way to a stall.”

Standing in the stall was a 15-hand dark bay Thoroughbred. In that instant, the 14-year-old knew that Orpington was hers.

“Orpi” and Motion, of Middleburg, Va., had a lengthy history prior to that memorable winter morning. In 2004, the gelding (Cozzene—Tina Fleet, Afleet) started his career in flat racing under Motion’s uncle, Kentucky Derby winning trainer Graham Motion.

Mary was familiar with Orpi, and her sister Lillibet, three years her senior, had even ridden him a couple of times while visiting Graham. Within a few races, it was apparent that Orpi didn’t have a knack for flat racing, so owner Gil Johnston sent him to Maryland-based steeplechase trainer Jack Fisher.

The next encounter Mary had with Orpi came at the Middleburg Races in 2008. “Jack told my dad that Orpi would be there, so we went and visited him, and Jack told me I could lead Orpi up in the paddock before the race. And that was the start of my career with him,” said Mary.

Orpi had mixed results as a steeplechaser, though he had ample ability.

“He had his own opinion. If he wanted to win, he’d get up and win, but sometimes he was lazy,” said Mary.
After a few bad finishes, Johnston decided that Orpi was finished racing. But that was only the start of his career with Mary.

“Gil called my dad and said, ‘Orpi just ran his last race, and I’ve decided he can be Mary’s horse.’ My dad thought that would be a good Christmas present,” said Mary.

And the rest is history. After hit-or-miss performances in his two previous careers, Orpi found his niche with Mary. In the 11 North American Point-To-Point Association junior field masters chases they entered during Mary’s
junior ’chasing career, they were never once defeated.

The Thrillseeker Gene

Despite the reputation she gained aboard Orpi through racing on the East Coast, Mary, a 16-year-old rising junior at Foxcroft School near Middleburg, remains firmly grounded—probably because greatness in the saddle is the norm in her family. She credits her mother, the late Patty Motion, with starting her riding career as a toddler.

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“Mary, from Day 1, wouldn’t put up with just being on the ground when either her mom or older sister were riding, so it just came naturally to put her on the back of a pony instead of carrying her around at horse shows or hunt meets!” said Mary’s father, Andrew Motion. “Mary was such a natural that we would always joke that she was safer on the back of a horse than her own two feet.”

The family lost Patty, an accomplished rider who enjoyed foxhunting and steeplechasing as well as showing, to breast cancer in 2004. But her equine passions live on as a legacy in her daughters.

“[Patty and the girls] had a very strong bond through their common interest,” said Andrew, who also grew up around horses and is a member of the Piedmont Hunt. “When her mom passed away, Mary was just 9 years old, and it actually knocked her back so much that she stopped riding for a short period of time.”

But that didn’t mean she foreswore horses altogether. Mary’s pony, Star, turned out to be the best therapy possible for the young girl. She’d come home from school each day, throw her backpack on the ground, run out to Star’s paddock “and sit in her pile of hay and tell her all of her problems,” Andrew recalled.

Lillibet also became Mary’s “rock of a big sister,” as Andrew put it, and gradually Mary regained her love of riding with the help of Cathy Zimmerman, wife of Pied-mont Hunt jt.-MFH Tad Zimmerman. After her mother’s passing, Mary halfheartedly accepted Cathy’s invitation to help walk Piedmont’s hound puppies and to bring her pony along. Soon enough, she was riding and hunting again as much as she could.

“She started coming home from school, grabbing a helmet out of the tack room and jumping on Star bareback, with no halter or bridle,” Andrew said. “She’d just grab mane and go flat out cross-country. I think the racing gives her that same feeling of pure freedom.”

Perpetual Motion

Once she’d gotten that taste of freedom, there was no letting go. Mary entered her first NAPPA race at age 11, on her pony Castle Fox, and she was hooked immediately.

“I never won on him, but going to the races with my friends and going really fast over fences was cool,” she said. “My show trainer always called me ‘the cowgirl in the ring’ because I liked going fast.”

Once she started riding Orpi in early 2009, Mary moved up to the junior field master chases, which are designated for riders under the age of 16. The gelding proved the best schoolmaster the Motions could have asked for and a perfect fit for the format.

“Orpi loved the junior races because he got to go slow over the jumps and then fast to the finish. The riders follow a field master around the jumps, so they keep it controlled for the younger riders, and then after the last jump, the field master makes sure everyone is together. He gets out of the way and drops his hand and lets them race to the finish,” explained Mary. “It really helps us to learn how to rate our horses and not mess up at the last fence, where most falls usually happen.”

This year Mary aged up and became eligible to ride in open point-to-point races. While she was nervous to ride in a “real” race, she found that the older, more experienced riders were ready to take her under their wings.

“Sometimes it’s intimidating, but they’re all so nice. They give me tips and cheer for me. It’s so nice because they’re so supportive,” she said.

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Mary made her debut in March on Orpi, and the pair won the foxhunter timber races at the Blue Ridge Hunt Point-To-Point and the Piedmont Fox Hounds Point-To-Point. Both races, held in Virginia, were 3 miles long.
The soft-spoken teenager attributes much of her success to trainer Neil Morris, who’s allowed her to race some of his horses as well. She’s ridden at his Kinross Farm in Upperville, Va., for the past year, and she won her first flat race, the novice rider flat at the Warrenton Hunt Point-To-Point (Va.), aboard the Morris-trained Humdinger.

“She’s very useful in that spot,” Morris said of Mary’s skill on the flat. “I couldn’t have found anybody better, and I emphasize anybody. She’s unmatched for her age.”

“I’m continually surprised by how effective she is on a horse—that sums up my opinion of her,” he continued. “The day of the races, she’s not excitable, and she doesn’t fold under pressure. She keeps a level head on her shoulders. She pleases me with her composure.”

Time Flies

Mary carries that composure with her even when she’s out of the tack. Many of her Foxcroft peers share her general passion for horses, but she’s the sole race rider in her class, so being the spokesperson for racing within the school community adds a little extra pressure.

“For a while, there weren’t many [young people] doing this. My generation is bringing in a lot of new jockeys,” said Mary, who’s forged friendships with many of her fellow NAPPA league riders, who take their role as racing poster children seriously.

Now that she’s in the tough gap years between the junior league and becoming an experienced professional jockey, Mary’s working harder than ever to build her résumé. Her superstar mount, Orpi, retired from rac-
ing this spring and moved to Maryland to foxhunt, but Mary’s been offered a few catch rides and hopes to
enter her new mount Woodmont in some point-to-points.

But with her father and Morris behind her, she’ll have more opportunities than most jockeys have at her age.

“I have a senior jockey, Chris Read, and he works with Mary very closely,” Morris said. “He’s an accomplished amateur rider, and he rode in the Maryland Hunt Cup the last two years. She listens closely to him. She’s like a sponge; she just absorbs all of the information, and you don’t even know it. She’s keen to do the work, and she doesn’t complain. It’s not all about the glory on Saturday afternoons. She’s doing something that she loves, and her passion makes [the work] a little easier.”

That passion is currently driving Mary toward several new goals, including riding in the Virginia Gold Cup Races and the Maryland Hunt Cup one day. After high school, she’d like to take a year off to work for a trainer in England before coming back for college and more racing.

“The thing that makes me most proud is the dedication she’s shown,” said Andrew. “She’s out of bed very early in the morning to get on one or two horses at Neil’s, rain or snow, before being in school by 7:45. And during the race season she’d work all weekend as well, either riding or helping run horses at the races for Neil and the Kinross crew. Learning at this age how hard you have to work to achieve success will hopefully lead to good things later in her life.”

“I guess we’ll see what happens,” Mary said with a smile. “I’m only 16!”

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