By Kevin Wilson
Kevin Krigger participated in the 139th running in the Kentucky Derby this year , but 19 year old Oliver Lewis, was the first black to win the Kentucky Derby on May 17, 1875, riding 3- year – old Aristide in record time. Thirteen of the 15 riders were also African American .
The phenomenon of black jockeys riding competitively goes back a long way.
African Americans were the first sports superstars in the U.S., winning 15 of the first 28 runnings at the Kentucky Derby.
In the new millennium, 16-year-old Miguelito Wilson, native of Atlanta, Georgia, is making his mark, pursuing a spot on the Olympic equestrian team for the 2024 Olympics.
At age 5, Miguelito rode a horse bareback, and fell off; but he was not intimidated. Two years later, he discovered a pair of riding boots belonging to his father, who rode horses in the ‘ 80s. His father worked as a rider and trainer for Joe Walker, now deceased. He also exercised race horses at Bowie Race Track, taught at various riding schools and summer camps. Not long after that incident, his father took his son to a horse show in Georgia. Miguelito’s love for horses is hard to articulate. Horses have been a huge part of his life, and for him wanting to get back on after falling was just a premonition of his future.
Competing for nearly nine years now, Miguelito recalls his first contest at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, just outside of Atlanta where the 1996 Olympics were held. Technically, he did not participate due to illness . Miguelito unfortunately suffered from a headache, vomited, and had to deal with a pony with a lot of energy. “My father had to gallop the pony around to get the energy out,” he recalls.
The first victory came subsequently at Wills Park in Alpharetta, Georgia.
Galloping as a cross country champion for Sutton Middle School, and earning second place in the 800 meters, in 2013, this Equestrian rider, has competed in Parker, Colorado, Lexington, Kentucky, Tyler, Texas, Raleigh, North Carolina, Aikens, South Carolina, and Germantown, Tennessee.
Due to his love of the sport, Miguelito is a online high school student at Georgia Connections Academy and an honor student .
He’s self independent and self motivated. “ We are awfully proud of our son,” says Miguel, Sr. Miguelito has studied Chinese for the past two years and is an English and writing enthusiast. “Providing information and passionate about storytelling, I enjoy,” he says. He’s a writer for the Monitor Newspaper.
Amanda Redman, a tenth-grade English teacher at Georgia Connections Academy, enjoys Miguelito’s zeal as a student.
” Miguelito is a model student in my Honors English 10 course this year,” Redman says. “I’m impressed by his ability to juggle rigorous honors level course work with the demands of being a competitive horseback rider. Few teens could be so successful in both areas.”
Training in North Wake,Texas, 30 minutes from Dallas, Miguelito wakes up at 7:30 am, gets on the computer, checks his lessons on the calendar, completes two lessons in the morning, eats breakfast, then looks at the board to see how many horses he’ll have to ride.
On any given day, he can ride between 4-10 horses, excluding a meal or break. When able, he’ll hang out with comrades, go to movies, play checkers, chess, and draw. While in that riding zone, he says, he jumps the horses over a course or two. His day ends about 4 pm. when he returns the horses to the barn. He then takes a break to watch television, or do more school work. “I’m a working student,” he tells Good News Notebook Magazine.
To excel in this sport managing a 1,000-pound animal, one must be fit, according to Miguelito; who avoids fast food, eats a lot of fruit and tries to make good decisions about his health. He goes grocery shopping, but he admits, avoiding junk food can be challenging. Cereal or toast, various vegetables and a meat, baked or fried is part of his dietary plan for success.
When preparing for competition, he stays in a camper, and rides everyday. He’ll get the grooms breakfast, observe the strides of the course on the show ground, exercise the horses, get the horse groomers, and eat breakfast. “There are 18-30 horses at a show,” he pointed out. His father, a professional, international clothing designer, manufactures Miguelito’s riding gear, which consist of a black riding jacket, blue horse bits, a white dress-shirt and tie, a black belt, a tall pair of black riding boots, and a gray helmet.
As an Equestrian, Miguelito does not race. He competes in a class. He can do jumpers, keeping the jumps up and display how fast the horses gallop around the course. As a successful Hunter, who jumps well and makes sure the horses are groomed, Miguelito, is primarily focused on jumpers, in order to go to the Olympics. He doesn’t have a preference, he’ll ride what he’s instructed to ride. He’s too young for the 2016 Olympics, and too inexperienced.
In defeat, Miguelito, intends to over analyze a lot, as he strives to be a perfectionist. He studies closely where he went wrong, hoping not to repeat the same error.
“Miguelito has a natural feel for horses, they respond to him in a very positive way and want to do well for him,” says Coach Matt Cyphert, a pro rider, who has trained and mentored Miguelito for a year. “His tenacity and strong work ethic will get him far in the sport and in life. I see great things for him.”
A Hunter- Jumper Show involves jumping classes being strictly judged on how well riders can communicate with their horses. This past summer, Miguelito competed in Colorado against Taylor Jay, a native of British Columbia, who has been riding since age 4. “He’s very competitive, and with the right opportunity, he can go all the way, as a rider or trainer,” Taylor, 16, says of Miguelito. In March, Miguelito won the low children’s jumper championship in Gulfport, Mississippi, and on April 5, he won the children’s hunter championship in Katy, Texas at the Spring Gathering Horse Show.
An Olympic size jump is as tall as Miguelito, who stands 5’4, and weighs 118 pounds. “It takes effort, money and time to jump Olympian size courses, that level is so rigorous for the rider, at least 12-14 fences,” he says.
Paving the way for others, being a role model for future generations in whatever he does, is his only focus. “Riding horses is the sport of my life, it’s a natural, and for people who look like me at a level like this in unchartered territory, would inspire them,” says the potential trendsetter, who could become the first black male Equestrian rider.
Back in Atlanta, Izzy Lo Russo, a friend since the third grade, is cheering Miguelito on. “We encourage one another. He has experienced so many things, still unglamorous and uncomfortable, but he has found what he really loved and wanted to do with his life and went for it. Not many people have the guts to do that,” says Izzy, a student at North Atlanta High School.
When you utter the names, Seabiscuit, Secretariat, the Belmont, the Triple Crown and the Kentucky Derby, he’s familiar. Close to signing an acting contract, Miguelito attended drama camp, and he’d love to see more movies and documentaries about horses. With a bunch of colleges in mind, he wants to major in Business or Marketing, but overall, to be an Olympian, horse trainer and writer is his desire. For now, the director of the ride to the Olympics foundation is writing his own script one class at a time.