I’ve talked in passing at this blog about women jockeys and exercise riders, but today I want to shine a spotlight on Dede McGehee, who was the woman on whose farm Rachel Alexandra was born.
Dede, who grew up in Jacksonville, FL, was raised in a day and a part of the country in which the primary expectation of a young woman was to make a good marriage to a man who could support her comfortably. And to keep an immaculate home.
Although Dede heard this message constantly from her parents, it didn’t stick: she loved animals and would bring home every stray creature she ever found. That included pigs, turtles, kittens, squirrels and once, a calf.
Dede stayed true to her animal-loving self and became a veterinarian. Her interests focused in on horses and she moved to Lexington, Kentucky, and bought the land that would become Heaven Trees Farm.
For years when her mother visited she’d try to convince Dede to stop this way of life. No man is going to want to marry a veterinarian, especially one who mucks around with horses all day, was her mom’s opinion.
But Dede always had a very strong sense of self and stuck to her course. And over time she became recognized as the expert in getting difficult mares to breed. Rachel Alexandra’s mother, Lotta Kim, was a prime example. Dede just worked with her slowly and patiently and lovingly, and Lotta Kim has become a very good mare. She has now had numerous foals and Dede takes pride in each one.
Although over the years she has had as many as 85 foals born on her farm in a single season, over the past few years she has scaled back her operation to only those horses she owns. That gives her time to pursue other passions, including gardening.