Inside Track: Living the Dream

Inside Track: Living the Dream
Photo: courtesy of Pam Stockard
Pam Stockard
Pam Stockard’s first dream as a child was to ride racehorses at Churchill Downs.  Her second dream as an adult, perhaps more fanciful than the first, was to have her artwork exhibited at the Kentucky Derby Museum. Dreams do, indeed, come true: the drawings and paintings of the Churchill Downs exercise rider will be part of an exhibition of art by members of the track’s backside community. In fact, the exhibition is entitled “Dream Chasers: The Art of Living on the Backside.” Launched April 14, it will feature the work of Stockard and 23 other artists as well as two musicians through the end of 2008.

Stockard’s pencil drawings and watercolors of horses and racing scenes, which sell for as much as $2,700, will be exhibited with other paintings, drawings, sculptures, pottery, and, perhaps not surprisingly, metal creations from several farriers on the Churchill Downs backside. The work also comes from all parts of the shedrow community. According to Brenda Kiefer, exhibit designer for the museum, grooms, hotwalkers, exercise riders, assistant trainers, and even a security guard are part of Dream Chasers.

Kiefer added, “This is one of the most exciting exhibits I’ve worked on. Spending time on the backside, finding these passionate and varied individuals who contribute so much to the track, then to have the opportunity to explore their art and their inspiration has been very rewarding.”

The inspiration will be evident in the artwork but also revealed through a “sound scape” that will provide ambient audio for the exhibition. The sound scape was created from interviews with each artist to add audio expression to what museum patrons will see as they view the works in the exhibition. Additionally, nine-foot panels for each artist and their works features a bio and reflections on art and life on the backside by the artists.

With both sight and sound, the exhibition should offer museum visitors art and an examination of life on the backside that most persons—even the most diehard racing enthusiasts—don’t know exists. Stockard’s life is but one example of how artistic talent has melded with a passion for horses to lead her to the backside.

The California native, who walks hots for trainer Dallas Stewart while recuperating from a riding injury, remembered as a child never playing with dolls but drawing horses.

“I wanted a horse and it’s the only way I could have one,” she said. She grew up in Inglewood, south of Los Angeles, “eight miles and an hour’s drive from Hollywood Park,” she said with a laugh. L.A. traffic notwithstanding, she would have her father drive her there and leave her unaccompanied when she was as young as seven- and eight-years-old. Days at the races obviously left an imprint. 

Her first ambition was to become a jockey, which led her to try to get backside work, unsuccessfully, when she was only 13 and 14-years-old. Stockard moved to Maryland to get riding training and experience after high school when she couldn’t crack what was a tough labor market at Southern California tracks at the time. A steeplechase trainer there hired her, and after seven years she left Maryland for New Orleans and Fair Grounds. By her own admission “too big to be a jock,” Stockard became an exercise rider for several trainers, including Hal Wiggins, traveling with his stable to Keeneland, Churchill Downs, and Saratoga.

Art, by that time, had been abandoned as she lived her first dream. But an injury in 1999 brought her back to it.

“I was off for nine months with a knee injury, but when the accident happened I didn’t know if I was going to be paralyzed or die. I knew then that I couldn’t do this (exercise riding) forever and began drawing,” she said. To her amazement, but not to the surprise of anyone who would see any of her work, people began commissioning her to do works for them for pay.

Today new dreams live for Stockard, who said, “I want to own my own art studio.” Horses, however, will never leave her life. “If I ever start making money doing my artwork it’s all going to go to buy retired racehorses and have land for them.”

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