Study into retired jockeys highlights importance of increased mental health support

09 Jan 2020 BHA Features Welfare

A study into retired jockeys published in late 2019 has highlighted the importance of increased mental health support for riders. 

The study was co-authored by Oxford University’s Botnar Research Centre and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and found that retired jockeys are over 2.5 times as likely to suffer from anxiety or depression, as well as being over six times as likely to suffer from osteoporosis and/or osteoarthritis compared to the general population.

Plans to increase mental health support for riders were announced yesterday following a successful joint bid to the Racing Foundation by the Jockeys Education and Training Scheme (JETS), Professional Jockeys Association (PJA) and Injured Jockeys Fund (IJF). A new cross-industry working group for mental health comprised of the PJA, IJF and BHA will also be formed in 2020.

There is significant ongoing work to improve the strength, fitness and physical wellbeing of riders. These include the provision of nutritional advice and support through Liverpool John Moores University and the PJA nutrition team, access to strength and conditioning facilities and physiotherapists through the IJF and ongoing research projects into spinal injury, concussion and bone health to better understand the physical impact of a riding career.

Dr Jerry Hill, Chief Medical Adviser of the BHA, said:

“There have been considerable efforts in recent years to improve both the mental and physical wellbeing of riders, and the findings of the report published today both validates that work and reminds us we should always be striving to do more.

“The efforts of the PJA, JETS and the IJF has over a number of years created a mental health support network which is as comprehensive as in any racing jurisdiction, and the news of increased funding from the Racing Foundation for further work is extremely positive.

“There have also been considerable cross-industry efforts to improve the nutrition, strength and training of riders and the situation now is unrecognisable in terms of how jockeys are treated and are treating themselves as elite athletes.

“The important work of the PJA, IJF, Liverpool John Moores University and others across racing will ensure we continue to improve in this area and support our riders to be stronger, fitter and healthier than ever before.”

Dr Julia Newton, Principal Investigator, University of Oxford, said:

“Understanding the impact of a career in professional racing later in life is key to developing interventions and support for new and current jockeys. We now understand that bone health in jockeys is negatively affected throughout their careers, both as newly licensed jockeys and in retirement.

“The increased frequency of painful joint arthritis in retirement will help further inform how the racing industry can reduce and manage injury during jockey careers. The findings on mental health add to the increasing evidence in this area which is already being addressed by further work supported by the Racing Foundation and the racing industry.”

Existing mental health support
The PJA, together with the JETS and the IJF and with support from the Racing Foundation, has been working for a number of years to improve the provision of mental health education, training and support for riders.

Some of the initiatives and supports on offer currently include:

  • Mental resilience training
  • Mental health training through leading charity Sporting Chance
  • Free access to qualified sports psychologists
  • Assistance with stays in rehabilitation facilities when necessary
  • Confidential 24-hour helpline
  • A range of talking therapies
  • Jockey Matters films to promote and highlight support available and increase awareness

With the result that over 100 riders have received support paid for by the PJA. This work has made a significant difference and reflects the support offered by player bodies in sports such as cricket, rugby and football.

Further research on the mental health of all racing industry participants which has been funded by the Racing Foundation and led by Racing Welfare has just been completed.

The findings and recommendations are currently being discussed by industry stakeholders to ensure current mental health provision and support services are targeted and new services are implemented for everyone who works in British racing.

Efforts to increase physical health and wellbeing amongst riders

Considerable cross-industry efforts have been ongoing for several years to ensure jockeys are treated as elite athletes with the lifestyles, support, education and fitness to match.

Recent examples of some of the ongoing work in this area include:

  • Research projects into spinal injury, concussion and bone health
  • Nutrition advice and support available through Liverpool John Moores University and PJA nutrition team
  • Increased provision of physiotherapists at all fixtures
  • Strength and conditioning training and provision through the Injured Jockeys Fund
  • Weighing room nutrition and wellbeing education campaign

This work is in part motivated by a desire to ensure the historical lifestyle choices of riders are not repeated and to minimize the risk of current riders facing similar health issues in later life by taking a preventative, proactive approach.

Notes to editors:

1. The full study into retired jockeys which was co-authored by the BHA, funded by the Racing Foundation and carried out at Oxford University’s Botnar Research Centre, can be viewed here.

2. The announcement regarding increased funding for mental health support for riders announced yesterday can be viewed here.

3. An example of some of the ongoing research to assist in managing riders’ physical wellbeing can be viewed here.

4. The Racing Foundation was established in January 2012 to oversee the distribution of funds to charitable causes within racing following the sale of the Tote. The British Horseracing Authority, the Horsemen’s Group and Racecourse Association are the three joint Members of the charity, which is registered with the Charity Commission as a charity under the law of England and Wales (no. 1145297).

The Trustees of the Racing Foundation are: Ian Barlow (Chairman), Linda Bowles, Susannah Gill, Mark Johnston, Jane Keir and William Rucker. Since inception, the Racing Foundation has granted just over £15million to charities associated with the horseracing and Thoroughbred breeding industry in the UK, supporting work in social welfare, education, training and participation, horse welfare, equine science research, and heritage and culture.

Twitter: @RacingGrants

4. The Botnar Research Centre, home to around 300 staff and postgraduate students, plays host to the University of Oxford’s Institute of Musculoskeletal Sciences, which enables and encourages research and education into the causes of musculoskeletal disease and their treatment.