By Lexi Browning
For the West Virginia Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Hoping to draw attention to the value of women’s “unique perspective,” West Virginia Legislature’s Women’s Caucus held its initial meeting of the session on Wednesday.
Women’s Caucus Chairwoman Del. Jill Upson, R-Jefferson, said the caucus would take on several issues this session, particularly substance abuse. Previously the caucus has worked on issues such as strangulation and human trafficking.
“There are a number of serious issues facing our state. I believe that women bring a unique perspective to these issues by virtue of the demanding roles that women play in both a personal and professional arena,” Upson said. “I plan to cover a broad spectrum of topics and to allow for the input from the caucus as to what legislation we should champion.”
The Women’s Caucus will meet once weekly for the remainder of the session and look at women’s roles and issues as part of each meeting.
At this week’s meeting, members of the caucus heard a brief presentation, titled ‘Women in Racing,’ on the economic and gender barrier-breaking employment opportunities available for women in West Virginia’s thoroughbred horse breeding, training and racing industry.
Representatives from the Northern and Eastern Panhandles —
home to West Virginia’s two horse racing facilities: Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in Charles Town and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in Chester — discussed the opportunities for women in racing, challenges facing the thoroughbred industry and related funding issues before the legislature.
Jana Tetrault, executive director of the Mountaineer Park Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA), Maria A. Catignani, executive director of the Charles Town HBPA and Kate Painter, secretary of the West Virginia Thoroughbred Breeders Association, spoke to the legislators.
First Lady Cathy Justice, a former West Virginia Quarter Horse Queen, was scheduled as the guest speaker, but was unable to attend the discussion due to an illness.
Tetrault said her love for horses started at a young age, adding that although the sport of horse racing had been previously male-dominated, females were becoming involved in every aspect of the sport: “At one time, women weren’t even allowed in the back barn area. Today, our associations are still called horsemen’s associations, and while we know these labels exist, we work hard daily to prove our contributions to the industry and express our passion.”
“Women make up a significant percentage of the workforce at thoroughbred racetracks in West Virginia,” Tetrault said, outlining opportunities for women as jockeys, trainers, exercise riders, veterinarians, racing officials and test barn workers.
“Women are a part of every piece of racing,” she said.
Talking of the numerous opportunities, Tetrault noted that one thoroughbred horse represents jobs for approximately 20 people. In Jefferson County, the horse racing and breeding industry provides approximately 14 percent of the region’s jobs.
Tetrault said many families, like her family, have relocated to the Northern and Eastern Panhandles for the opportunities provided by West Virginia’s renowned thoroughbred industry.
“West Virginia has really been a starting point for a lot of women who have been pioneers in the racing,” Tetrault said, noting Patty Barton, the first woman to be licensed as a jockey at Mountaineer, and Sylvia Bishop, the first African-American female trainer at Charles Town Race Track. We are West Virginia racing, and we’re proud to join the ranks of these women who have broken barriers and persevered, all while raising a family.’
Del. Upson praised the representatives for their relentless devotion to maintaining a strong female presence in the industry. “These smart, hard-working women represent the critical contributions that these industry leaders make to West Virginia’s economy and communities,” Upson said.