WWU Alumna Combines Jockey Career and Art

Renee Torbit, a 2000 graduate of William Woods University, has taken her equestrian skills in a less than typical direction. While most WWU equestrian students go on to become trainers or instructors, Torbit is now a jockey.

But there is more that sets her apart than her unusual career path. The Collinsville, Ill., resident is also a talented artist.

The daughter of John and the late Rosalia Torbit of Salem, Mo., she was an avid rider in her youth. She began riding Western when she was about 2 years old and never looked back.

At the same time, her artistic skills were also blossoming, and so was an interest in American Sign Language. These three reasons all played a part in why she chose William Woods University.

“I came there for art, horses and sign language,” said Torbit.

An art major, Torbit minored in both equestrian science and sign language interpreting at WWU. While she said she learned a lot about art and art history, especially from Professors Terry Martin and Jane Mudd, her heart seemed to be in the stables.

During her time at William Woods, she got “hooked on vaulting,” which is something like gymnastics on horseback. She has high praise for Jean Kraus, professor of equestrian science and sponsor of the school’s vaulting team.

“Professor Kraus was great; she really helped us out a lot,” said Torbit.

However, vaulting was more of a pastime. Since she was 6 or 7, she knew that she wanted to be a jockey. At 5’2’’ and 111 pounds, she has the stature of a typical rider.

According to Torbit, there are not many women jockeys, but their numbers are increasing, particularly on the east coast. As more women enter the field, they pave the way for others to get established.

“And the more people you know, the easier it is to find something to ride,” she said.

Torbit took steps toward her goal even before graduation. She worked at a Thoroughbred farm during her summers off from college.

“I started working there, galloping horses in the mornings; a year after that I was riding races,” she said.

She has about 50 wins, but “would like to have more.” She says she hopes to keep riding until she is at least 70 “if I’m lucky enough to stay healthy.”

Torbit is proud to have ridden a couple good horses, her favorite still being Knockwood, the horse she won her first race aboard in 2003 at Fairmont Park in Collinsville, Ill.

“I think they retired him last year. He was a really cool horse, an absolute little sweetheart who tried hard all of the time,” said Torbit.

Even with her jockey career in full-swing, Torbit still manages to find the time to create her artwork. She does almost every medium, but her favorite is oil painting.

She tends to sell a lot of horse artwork, since she is around horse people almost every day. Because she knows the animal so well, horses are easy for her to create, and enjoyable to paint.

“Horses are not hard for me,” said Torbit. “I have more problems painting people.”

CUTLINE: William Woods University graduate and jockey, Renee Torbit, likes to paint what she knows best, as exemplified by this picture done at Portland Meadows in Oregon.