BY JIM WELLS
It isn’t necessarily a sore spot but at some level she must grow weary every now and then when someone refers to her height.
She’s been hearing it her entire life, grade school, high school and now in her professional career. Many of us might have lashed out by now after being pelted with the same question time and time again.
Just how tall are you, anyway?
Or, variations on the theme over and over again.
“Hey, there shorty!”
“How ya doin,’ short stuff.”
“What’s up, Smurf.”
Or, the label she acquired at Remington Park during its most recent meet, shortly before she headed to Canterbury Park for the first time:
That one she actually likes _ something fresh, something new _ and says she’s actually fond of it.
At 4-feet-10, it was probably reassuring for her to hear the other day that Bill Shoemaker was a mere 4-11.
It doesn’t hurt, either, that Nakia Ramirez, 23, is one tough cookie, passionate about her work, dedicated, dependable, ambitious and in love with horses.
If all the talk about her height is repetitious or irksome, it’s certainly not obvious. Perhaps by now it just goes with the territory and is secondary in importance to being female in a male-dominated sport.
She takes it all in stride, whether she’s riding a quarter horse or a thoroughbred. “I like them both,” she said, equally. There are differences, of course, as she readily points out.
She compares racing quarter horses to what “flying must feel like.”
“I haven’t ridden a lot of thoroughbreds but I do just fine when I do. Riding both (breeds) is enjoyable.”
A native of Blackfoot, Idaho, Ramirez confined her race-riding to basically her home state until striking out for Remington Park for its most recent meet.
Unknown around the stables there, she hustled her own mounts, as she does in Shakopee, soliciting the barns each day and offering her services to gallop horses in exchange for mounts when the opportunity arises.
When she discovered that two of the trainers she worked for in Oklahoma City_ Jason Olmstead and Jason Pascoe _ were headed to Canterbury Park after the Remington Park meet, she headed north, too.
“I’ve really enjoyed it so far,” she said. “It’s been great. When we got here, Jason (Olmstead) gave us a tour of the place and I really liked what I saw.”
Although Olmstead and Pascoe have given her mounts, she arrived knowing that Cristian Esqueda had first call on Olmstead’s horses, but that she’d get opportunities when they arose. She is 3-1-4 from 21 quarter horse mounts but has ridden only one thoroughbred since her arrival in Shakopee a little more than three weeks ago.
“We give her crap all the time about how she is too little,” Olmstead said, “but she has been very dependable for me. It’s nice to see someone come up here knowing that she isn’t going to get first call yet come anyway.”
Olmstead says she will get her share of business in time.
“If she decides to come back up here next year,” he said, “I think she will be able to generate her own business. It’s tough until trainers see what you can do, learn that you can ride.”’
For the time being, Ramirez has her five-year-old daughter, Jewell, to keep her company in Minnesota. She doesn’t expect race riding to rub off on Jewell, however. “I tell her she’s a little too girly, girly for that,” she said.
Ramirez’s fondness for horses began at age eight when her grandfather bought her a Paint she called Gypsy, and the love affair was under way. Later there was 4H and rodeo competitions. “Everybody from where I come from is pretty much cowboy,” she said. Yet, there was something inadequate about barrel racing and pole bending. “It just wasn’t quite enough,” she said.
She began thinking about race riding, with immediate responses from her parents. “My mother (Joanna) was horrified. My dad (Clint) never thought I’d go through with it.”
Eventually, a step-dad entered her life and the message changed.
“He (Tello) knew I was going to do it, so he essentially supported me in it,” she said.
She is the only one associated with racing in her family. “The closest anyone else got to it,” she said, “was a younger sister of mine who sang the anthem (to open rodeos) and my dad who will pony once in a while.”
Her work ethic is partially attributable to another sport she played in high school _ soccer.
She played left striker or sweeper at Snake River High School, winners of the state championship her senior year.
So, she takes a special interest in the sport, particularly with the World Cup under way.
“I don’t have a favorite,” she confessed, “but I do enjoy watching players that skilled. It’s really amazing.”
Ramirez rode her first winner in 2013 on a horse named Quick Light. She had to think for a moment, unable to recall her first quarter horse winner the same year, and laughed at the irony of the moment when she finally came up with it.
“Oh, yeah,” she said, “it was a horse named Hazy Memory.