There are few sporting professions that can be as testing on an athletes wellbeing than being a jockey. The stress that each rider has to deal with differs, but for leading jockeys, they will have to often deal with the pressures of riding short-priced favorites in some of the world’s biggest races.
This could easily take a toll on the stars, as they will be expected to claim winners more regularly than those representing smaller yards. It is also a cut-throat industry, as poor performances can often see jockeys taken off rides, just as legendary rider Frankie Dettori was in 2022 by trainer John Gosden.
So, what do jockeys in the TwinSpires road to the Kentucky Derby do to ensure that they have a positive wellbeing and outlook in the sport?
Is It A High-Risk Sport?
One of the biggest factors for a damaging wellbeing for jockeys is due to the fact that racing is a high-risk sport, with demands on jockeys to perform to their best abilities on numerous occasions on a single day. There is also other factors that could play a part in a damaging relationship with mental health for jockeys, most evidentially the fact that they need to meet weight requirements and ensure that they have a positive relationship with trainers and other jockeys.
Recent studies have found that the stresses that come with the job has led to findings that 80% of jockeys in Ireland had shown signs of at least one mental health issue. That includes using alcohol to deal with the stresses that come with the job. That figure rises to 87% for the jockeys tested in the United Kingdom, with the staggering number reporting that they had experienced depression or anxiety over a 12-month period.
What Are Governing Bodies Doing?
The stigma of mental health is something that governing bodies in the sport have been looking to address over the past ten years. For example, the British Horseracing Association has vowed to enhance the health and wellbeing of the jockeys under their care by offering a range of services and access to specialist facilities. The organisation works closely alongside the Mental Health department in the British government, and also works with charities, such as Mind, to assist the jockeys under their care with all the assistance that they need to address such issues.
As well as this, the BHA vows to promote a healthy message within the sport by offering a diverse range of role models and ambassadors to ensure that all jockeys feel as though they can come forward should they seek help. The BHA also uses their own statistics to analyse the performances of jockeys and can help address any issues surrounding performances dipping to an unlikely low level.
What Can Be Done In The Future?
Sport and mental health remains a stigma to this day, with very few sportspeople across any sport coming forward with issues that they are experiencing. One of the few sports that have taken steps in the right direction is cricket, with England test captain Ben Stokes taking time away from the sport due to issues surrounding his mental health.
Given the furious nature of horse racing, and the lack of guaranteed rides after a long break, we haven’t seen top stars take this same approach to date, despite riding every day over a 365-day period. But, we could see this stigma changing for the better in the future as soon as a major name comes forward. A positive reaction to this could promote more to come forward should they be experiencing mental health issues while in the saddle.