Kris Prather did not just enter the world of Thoroughbred horse racing in 2000, she burst onto the scene like a woman on a mission.
A native of Montana, Prather moved to Kentucky not long before to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a professional jockey. With guidance from Julie Krone and Donna Barton—two of the sport’s top female riders—Prather proved she had talent from the very beginning.
She won 27 races at the Turfway Park holiday meet as an apprentice to lead all riders. The following year while still a bug girl and only 21 years old, she turned heads across the country by riding 109 winners at the Turfway winter/spring meet, which broke the track record for wins at a meet. Incredibly, Prather set the mark while missing the final six weeks of the meet with an injury. At the time, she led the nation in victories.
“From the time I was a little girl all I wanted to do was ride” said Prather, who was an Outstanding Apprentice Jockey Eclipse Award finalist in 2001. “It just seemed to come naturally to me. I tried to copy Donna and it worked. I was feeling pretty good about the start of my career.”
Unfortunately for Prather, the injury that sidelined her at Turfway, and one a few weeks later while working a horse at Churchill Downs, changed the course of her life.
“The first time I got hurt the horse flipped in the starting gate at Turfway,” Prather recalled. “The second time the filly just kind of spun in the middle of the racetrack, my foot got caught in the irons and I flipped. My shoulder was basically ruined.”
Prather continued to ride off and on for the next three years while trying to recover from numerous injuries to her shoulder. But after two surgeries to repair a broken shoulder blade and torn rotator cuff, and several failed comeback attempts, in 2004 Prather had to accept that her career was over. She finished with 242 wins from 1,356 mounts and earnings of $3,377,982.
“I kept trying to come back but eventually the doctors wouldn’t release me anymore,” Prather said. “I was in chronic pain. When the time finally came for me to stop riding, I was completely devastated.”
With her dreams of becoming a world-class jockey prematurely ended, Prather turned to another one of her passions—writing. With encouragement from Barton (who eventually became Donna Brothers when she married trainer Frank Brothers), Prather began writing journals.
After a while, she focused her writing on horses and even put together her first book.
The book, which was titled The Horse Tamer’s Niece, was sent to publishers. Remarkably, despite never taking any formal journalism courses, it was picked up. It was released earlier this year and has sold more than 6,000 copies so far.
“It’s a young-adult novel about a girl who wants to become a jockey and goes on to ride in the Louisiana Derby,” Prather said. “She has to overcome a lot in her life and so does the horse she rides. Some of the experiences from my life help shape the book.”
Prather, who lives in Louisville, recently had her second book published, and hopes to have two literary adult novels published next year. Her hope is that writing will be as fulfilling as riding once was.
“It’s hard being away from riding,” Prather admits. “I still want to get on a horse and feel that rush again. But I’m grateful for everything that riding gave me. I’m trying to take that passion and use it in my writing."
Prather’s books can be purchased on her Web site, krisprather.com.