Montrose woman obtained first female jockey’s license
Anna Lee Aldred was a living legend in Montrose when I made her acquaintance shortly before she passed away in 2006, at the age of 85. She had galloped into history as the first licensed woman jockey in North America, and when I learned of her amazing accomplishments, I knew I had to meet her.
This spunky little woman (she wore size 5 cowboy boots) had earned a star in the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas, and was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in Denver for her groundbreaking career on the track and as a professional trick rider. In those days — the 1930s and ‘40s — women just didn’t do the kinds of things she did. But she pursued her passion with a grace and dignity that puts many modern sports stars to shame.
Anna Lee was the youngest of five children born to Tom and Dottie Mills, who ranched in the Uncompahgre Valley. Coming into a ranching and rodeo family (her older siblings were all involved in rodeo in one way or another), Anna Lee got hooked on horses at an early age and that love lasted a lifetime. Her earliest childhood memory, at two or three years of age, was that of her father tossing her up on the broad back of one of his workhorses as they came in from the field where she had been “helping” him. She said she pestered him to get on, and then cried when she had to get off. From then on, horses became her life. She often admitted, “I wasn’t happy unless I was on a horse.”
As a teenager, Aldred began making a name for herself in matched races, riding her father’s racehorses on the Powder Puff circuit on “bush tracks” in the West and Midwest. She was only 13 and weighed all of 80 pounds, but her father, who acted as her agent, convinced authorities she was older. She was a talented jockey and won quite a few races. The pay was $3 to ride and $5 if she won.
Newlywed to fellow jockey Scott Riles, Aldred applied for a professional jockey license in 1939 in Mexico, in order to get into big-time racing. Since officials could find no rules barring girl jockeys, she was accepted. As a result, she is believed to have been the first licensed female jockey in North America. Other women and girls raced at some bush tracks at the time, but she was the first to obtain a racing license.
Aldred’s racing career continued but her marriage did not. She and Riles couple soon divorced. But by 1944, she had traveled from coast to coast and border to border in pursuit of her racing passion.
(One highlight of her travels occurred while in New York state in the ‘30s when she met famous jockey Red Pollard and got to witness the legendary Seabiscuit working out in preparation for his famous race against War Admiral.) But by 1945, she had grown and her weight was then over the limit at 118 pounds, so she retired from racing.
Having watched and admired trick riders at rodeos all over the country, this fearless female decided to take up that profession.
The adventuresome Aldred taught herself to master the Hippodrome Stand, the Death Drag and other dangerous stunts she had seen performed, training her own horse while practicing alone in deserted arenas.
With her car pulling a one-horse trailer with her palomino horse, she traveled from rodeo to rodeo, fetching $150 per show, staying in motels along the way and stabling her horse at the local fairgrounds.
When a cute cowboy by the name of Wayne Aldred came along in 1950, Anna Lee left rodeo and settled into the role of wife, as well as mother to their two adopted children.
Aldred loved to talk about her exciting life to anyone who would listen, pointing out the magazine and newspaper clippings and photos depicting her daring feats and accomplishments that adorned the walls of her room, pictures that showed a beautiful young woman who was definitely ahead of her time.
In those final years, she weighed about the same as when she first became a jockey, but her mind was sharp, and her independent nature and strong determination continued to shine through, even as ill health began to claim her body. “I’d still be riding horses if I could!” she told me.
That statement pretty much defined Anna Lee Aldred’s indomitable spirit.