What is Steeple Chase Racing exactly?
Why do women not compete in sports that men are predominant in? Well, here is why! This Blog is a 7- to 10-minute read.
Steeplechase is a distance horse race in which competitors are required to jump diverse fences and ditch obstacles. Steeple chasing is primarily conducted in Ireland (where it originated), the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Australia and France. The name is derived from early races in which orientation of the course was by reference to a church steeple, jumping fences and ditches and generally traversing the many intervening obstacles in the countryside.
Modern usage of the term “steeplechase” differs between countries. In Ireland and the United Kingdom, it refers only to races run over large, fixed obstacles, in contrast to “hurdle” races where the obstacles are much smaller. The collective term “jump racing” or “National Hunt racing” is used when referring to steeplechases and hurdle races collectively (although, properly speaking, National Hunt racing also includes some flat races). Elsewhere in the world, “steeplechase” is used to refer to any race that involves jumping obstacles.
The most famous steeplechase in the world is the Grand National run annually at Aintree Racecourse, in Liverpool, since its inception in 1836 (the official race was held three years later), which in 2014 offered a prize fund of 1 million pounds.
Also, see what Equestrian Sport is.
Types of horse racing
There are many different types of horse racing, including:
- Flat racing, where horses gallop directly between two points around a straight or oval track.
- Jump racing, or Jumps racing, also known as Steeple chasing or, in the UK and Ireland, National Hunt racing, where horses race over obstacles.
- Harness racing, where horses trot or pace while pulling a driver in a sulky
- Saddle Trotting, where horses must trot from a starting point to a finishing point under saddle
- Endurance racing, where horses travel across the country over extreme distances, generally ranging from 25 to 100 miles (40 to 161 km). Anything less than 25 miles qualifies as a limited distance ride or LD.
Why are there so few women Jockeys in Steeple Chase Racing?
When the 40 runners and riders gather at the starting line at Aintree, it will be a Grand National like no other seen in the past 30 years. For the first time since 1988, three female jockeys will be in their number. And for the first time ever, all three will be on good horses.
The excitement is mounting well beyond the race course: could Katie Walsh, Rachael Blackmore or Bryony Frost become the first female jockey to take home the £561,300 prize for first place? It is, without doubt, the best chance of this outcome since Charlotte Brew became the first female rider to participate in the National in 1977 – and betting activity around Walsh, in particular, has been intense. Ladbrokes has reported a “rush of money” on her becoming the first-ever female jockey to triumph in the world’s best-known steeplechase.
Walsh is the woman who has come closest to winning, taking third place on Seabass in 2012. But to Blackmore, at least, the significance of being a female rider is not foremost in her mind. She says “female or male doesn’t really enter into it,” I would just like to win the race. I’m really looking forward to it and delighted to get the opportunity.”
Nevertheless, if a female jockey wins the National, the impact will be enormous.
“The house will come down if one of them wins. I don’t think there’ll be a dry eye on the racecourse,” predicts Naomi Lawson of Great British Racing, the official marketing and promotional body.
Having three women competing is, “brilliant for the sport”, which is one of the few where men and women can compete on an equal platform. These three are brilliant role models. They’re talented and successful.”
The three jockeys remain part of a minority in their sport. More than four decades after the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1977, an analysis of a 14-year racing period – incorporating more than a million individual rides – has found that just 5.2 per cent were taken by women. In Class 1 races – including the National – just 1.1 per cent of rides went to female jockeys, while only 11.3 per cent of professional jockey licences are held by women.
It is found that although female jockeys have far fewer race-riding opportunities, their performance is equal to that of men.
So why are we not seeing more female big winners? It is suggested that residual attitudes based on history and tradition may continue to exert some influence over the hiring decisions of owners and trainers when selecting jockeys.
Although professional horse racing dates back to the early 18th century, women were not able to apply for a jockey licence until the 1970s. Initially, female jockeys were confined to a limited series of ‘ladies’ races and were only permitted to ride as amateurs, but by the late 1970s the Jockey Club [horse racing’s governing body at the time] conceded to gender equality legislation and allowed women to pursue careers as professional jockeys.”
However, the lack of parity may be thanks to a vicious cycle. “Since we know from the study that females are given rides on horses with a lower chance of winning, their observed performance figures will be lower than that of their male counterparts. Public perception of female performance may therefore be adversely affected, as ‘strike rates’ will not be fully representative of those expected under conditions of equality.
Habitually riding the ‘long shots’ may reinforce the opinion that female jockeys are less effective than male riders who ride the horses with a greater chance of winning. Consequently, women may receive fewer rides on the best horses within a race and will therefore be unable to demonstrate their ability to be competitive. And so the cycle continues.
There is, of course, an element of luck in the National, which any rider would be quick to acknowledge. But as the most high-profile event in the sport, the symbolism of a female victory cannot be underestimated and would arguably help speed up a process that has already begun.
Recent high-profile wins among female jockeys demonstrate real progress and will undoubtedly help drive the growing enthusiasm for supporting female riders. This progress on the track, combined with research evidence, has the potential to drive positive changes to perception around the performance of female riders. While it would be unrealistic to expect it overnight, opportunities for women in the near future will grow.
Once the opportunities are available, female jockeys will be able to showcase their talent and prove themselves. Nick Rust, head of the British Horse racing Authority, has been quoted as predicting a female champion jockey within the next five years and I don’t think that this is unrealistic.”
The Rider In horse racing riders are divided into jockeys, apprentices, amateurs and exercise riders. Jockeys are professional riders, whereas apprentices aspire to become professionals.
Female Riders until the beginning of the 1970s, could not ride as jockeys in Sweden. Developments in the USA are said to have prompted the change. In 1968 the Olympic show jumping rider Kathy Kusner was given a jockey license in the USA. She had been working for one of the trainers at the Maryland racing track and applied for a license there, but was dismissed. She took the ruling body to court, referring to the American constitution prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, race or religion, in an attempt to obtain her license.
She, like other women, had faced a variety of arguments against allowing them to be jockeys, some implying that they were not good enough riders or too inexperienced, too young or too old. Other arguments were based on conceptions of gendered behaviour – that women were supposed to panic during the races, or that men, being gentlemen, would not try to win against women.
There were economic arguments as well. Racing boards argued that it was too expensive to build new changing rooms for women. In the end, racing organizations could not keep women back. Kusner was given a licence. She was to have made her debut in November 1968 but broke a leg during training. Diane Crump subsequently became the first female jockey to ride in a race in the USA. Many countries changed their regulations at this time.
In 1940 there were no registered women riders, and in 1950 the female riders amounted to five per cent. Between the years 1970 and 1980, the proportion of female riders doubled from 14 per cent to 29 per cent. In the next ten years, the number almost doubled again and then continued to grow. By the year 2000 female riders amounted to 65 per cent. During the early twentieth century, races were divided into men’s and women’s races. Men’s races dominated, although women’s races, or ‘Amazon’ races as they were called, were included in the programme on most racing days.
In another issue of the horse racing journal, ‘Amazon’ races were said to play an important role during the racing days. In the early 1940s, some women applied for permission to ride in the same races as men, and by 1942 a few were allowed to ride in amateur races against men.
Initially, this was a right given only to specific individuals, but in the Jockey Club’s regulations of 1944 the clause excluding women was removed and the gender-neutral concept ‘rider’ was used instead. Paradoxically, however, despite this clause, there was still a specific clause for female riders. The decision to let women ride did not go unchallenged.
In 1945 a list of female riders was presented for the first time in the Swedish statistical yearbook of horse racing. Just like the male amateurs, these female amateur riders were not paid for riding in races. These women could not ride to earn their living, as a majority of the male jockeys did. However, they were not forced to support themselves in this way. Many of them belonged to the middle or upper classes, so it is likely that it was their social class affiliation which made their riding possible.
The acceptance of female amateurs did not open all doors for female riders. They were not allowed to ride professionally, and the animosity towards female professionalism can be seen in the way that the critical voices against female riders changed at this time. It was not their riding in races that were criticized and ridiculed. The female amateurs were even praised and considered to be better than some of the male amateurs. Instead, criticism was directed towards the fact that some women earned money and made a living for themselves through horse racing, working as grooms and exercise riders.
The Jockey Club continues to see women as amateurs. Social class aspects were also hinted at in the discussions on whether women working as grooms ought to receive permission to ride in professional races. It was suggested that women could ride in ‘match races.
The Jockey Club had opened the amateur races only for those women who owned their own horses. Even in such cases, licences were given only as exceptions. The criticism against female riders continued, and sometimes women were excluded from races.
In contrast to flat racing, steeple chasing was presented as a ‘noble’ sport, as steeplechases were said to demand more of the rider than flat racing. Such races were also described as being more dangerous and thus requiring more bravery. The steeplechase rider was described as an ideal representative of masculinity.
Even though steeplechase races were presented as ‘real sport’, the number of flat races increased after the introduction of the totalizator. Many jockeys and trainers were more interested in flat racing as the pay was better, and spectators were less interested in gambling on steeplechases, considering them too unpredictable.
Many of the women could not provide for themselves as professional sportspeople but initially needed full-time jobs to support their participation in sports. Since 1972 female jockeys and apprentices have been able to work in the stables and ride professionally.
Women were contracted by professional trainers just like the male jockeys, and when the ‘glass ceiling’ had been broken, a number of women became professionals. A first step was that female amateurs with ten victories or more were given the opportunity to exchange their licensees for jockey licenses. Only Five per cent of the jockeys in steeple chasing are women.
Male jockeys make more money; some of them have helpers (which none of the female jockeys has) and managers (only a few of the female jockeys have managers). Whether this will change over time is another story.
It is unfortunate seeing women jockeys being exposed to sexual harassment, and gender discrimination, by continuing stereotypes of women’s physical abilities and social roles and, are segregated involuntarily into different types of equine sports and competitions “better” suited into positions of leadership and decision-making.
The value placed on women jockeys is lower, resulting in inadequate resources and unequal wages and prizes. In the media, women jockeys are not only marginalized but also presented in a different style that reflects and reinforces gender stereotypes. Also violence against women jockeys, exploitation and harassment are manifestations of the perceptions of men jockeys’ dominance, physical strength and power which are traditionally portrayed in male jockeys.
Last but not least, Steeple Chasing is a very dangerous sport and requires strength, stamina and quick calculation. One only needs to read about or see the dangers in the sport to admire the true grit and determination and pressure put on both Jockeys and Horses.
Take a look at this very interesting article: https://www.zippia.com/jockey-jobs/demographics/
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