| Published in Sunday Independent on 12.07.2020 | A Touch of Frost |
This week I felt compelled to talk about a matter which gets very little publicity, but I feel strongly that it should.
Last night I watched an interview with a former British Olympic gymnast who bravely spoke about the bullying she had experienced as well as witnessed in her sport. She alleged that it was not untypical for a gymnast who was injured to receive no sympathy from their trainers if they couldn’t perform, and how if they said they couldn’t because of the injury, they were punished. She said that within gymnastics ‘mental and physical abuse was entirely the norm’.
This year alone, three young British jockeys have taken their lives. Whilst other factors appear to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, it doesn’t surprise me. A number of young jockeys who I thought would go on to bigger and better things, have said to me that they walked away from the sport because they could no longer cope with the stress.
I started racing back in the 70s and turned professional in the 80s. I have witnessed bullying on the track and in the yards all my life. Whilst the racing world can be wonderful, in the early years of a jockey’s career it is often not the glamourous life it appears to be. Nikki and I have always been aware of the tough times that our children would face when they first started their careers as jockeys and knowing that we hope we prepared them well. Not all jockeys are so forewarned.
In most cases a young jockey will be expected to arrive at their trainer’s yard by 7 am. They will then have to drive to the race track, possibly racing at two courses in a day. It would not be unusual for him or her to be driving for four to five hours a day. On arrival at the track if they are carrying any extra body weight, they have to attempt to sweat it off in the sauna. The pressure to keep to a strict riding weight is constant throughout the career of a jockey. More often than not they won’t return home from racing until mid to late evening. Eating well often proves to be difficult due to the lack of time at home and yet the pressure on the jockey to be in peak condition physically for racing is constant for the jockey to remain safe. Injuries are a norm in the sport.
Every day a jockey is on the track they are also under the pressure of knowing that thousands of people are wanting them to win. Insults are common particularly on social media if they fail to meet expectations. Each day, perhaps following little sleep, a poor diet and hours on the road, the jockey faces the cycle again. There is no other sport I can think of where competitors face the same pressure day in day out.
The competitive nature of the sport also leads to bullying amongst jockeys which leads to volatile atmospheres in the weighing room. For the young jockeys I coach I always try to teach them the four Rs: Rules, Respect and the Responsibilities they have as riders – whilst Remaining competitive.
Back in 2016 a campaign was started by Tudor Rose Equine called Not On My Yard #notonmyyard. It brought attention to the bullying taking place in the equestrian world. Riders from all disciplines joined together to help raise awareness for the anti-bullying campaign. Four years later and sadly very little seems to have changed.
If I can achieve anything today writing this column it is to raise the awareness of the immense pressure jockeys are under. If you know of any jockey starting out in the sport, please offer them support. Even if it’s only a good home-made meal now and again.
On a brighter note, Bryony has done well this week with one winner and three seconds. Her win on Balagan at Uttoxeter at 40/1 brought smiles to all our faces. I could kick myself that I didn’t place a tenner on it.
Until we catch up again next week, keep safe and importantly be kind to each other.