Women in Horse Racing
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.
The study exposed the shocking statistic that less than 15% of licensed professional jockeys are women, despite representing the overwhelming majority of equestrians overall. Furthermore, only around 5% of available competitive rides were taken by women in the timeframe the study examined.
Amelia Hauschild, 18, said her experiences as a 16-year-old apprentice at small tracks nearly drove her from the sport. She said trainers and other jockeys verbally and sexually harassed her. People passed around her phone number and called her to ask for dates, and harassed her on social media. Two trainers told her she’d get more rides and better horses if she slept with them, she said. They routinely commented on how her clothes fit her body.
“I have been in situations where I should’ve reported it or called police, but if you’re the only woman then it’s pretty easy to know who made the report,” said Hauschild. “Until it’s time to move to a different state or work for someone else you’re kind of stuck in that situation.”
After about a year of racing, Hauschild was able to move her apprenticeship to Santa Anita Park, a large California track, where she says she hasn’t encountered any harassment.
Jockey Julie Burke, who moved to the U.S. from Ireland two years ago, said a male jockey hazed her for weeks and punched her in the face after a race in 2017. They were both punished.
“I was just riding a race like everyone else but because it was me, he could come in and bully me, because I wasn’t one of the guys,” said Burke, 28.
She complained to the track stewards about the bullying but they did nothing about it, she said. She didn’t want to name the track where the bullying happened or name the jockey because she still has to work alongside him.
“It’s probably the only sport where women take that kind of stuff,” she said. “We have to because that’s what you have to put up with. If you’re competing with the men you have to accept it as that’s that.”
Katie Clawson Ramsay
Katie Clawson Ramsey, 21, an exercise rider who retired from racing last year, said she was shocked to hear derogatory comments men made about women on the racetrack but she said it seemed acceptable for them to behave that way. She said older jockeys would offer to mentor young female riders, only to try to take advantage of them.
“Unfortunately, some girls fall for that and can get into sticky situations and unfortunate circumstances with the guys taking advantage of the fact that they have a dream to chase and hone their craft,” Clawson Ramsey said. “I know of numerous people who had that direct experience.”
The Jockeys’ Guild, an organization that represents jockeys, said in a statement it’s been made aware “of a couple of incidents throughout the country” but it has not received complaints about sexual harassment from its members.
“The stewards at each racetrack are given the authority to oversee all aspects of racing, including participants, at each race track,” the Guild said. “Therefore, they would be the most appropriate avenue to investigate and address such complaints or alleged incidents.”
While some jockeys described widespread harassment and discrimination in the sport, others said they haven’t experienced it.
“You might have guys who will whistle at you but that’s just normal life, it can happen anywhere you go,” said jockey Ashley Broussard, 25, who’s been winning races at Evangeline Downs and Delta Downs, small tracks in Louisiana. “I’ve never had anyone make comments or that if I want to ride for this barn you have to be with me. I’ve never had these issues.
“I feel a lot of that is how you present yourself and carry yourself. If you go out there wearing cutoff shirts and skinny jeans and go and flirt with the guys, of course, they are going to take advantage of that. You have to think of it as a business, not as trying to work your way in.”
She thinks the reason women are underrepresented in the sport is due to the risks involved, not the lack of opportunities, and many choose family over racing. Broussard said her body hurts every day because she’s had broken ribs, a broken collarbone, a punctured lung, several concussions and other injuries.
“It’s not going out and playing ball,” said Broussard, who’s a single mom to a 3-year-old son. “A lot of people get killed, they get hurt. You have to be willing to take that and mentally prepare yourself.”
Jockey Sophie Doyle, who moved to the U.S. from the U.K. in 2013, echoed Broussard’s opinion. She said she hasn’t experienced sexual harassment at work and said a woman’s success as a jockey depends on hard work and connecting with the right people.
“It’s the same as in any job, you just have to know how to handle yourself,” Doyle said. “Don’t ever put yourself in a situation where you have to do something to get a ride in the barn. I’ve had people whistling and saying, ‘hey babe,’ you have to ignore it.”
Donna Brothers, who won over 1,100 races and serves as a horseback riding reporter and analyst for NBC Sports’ Triple Crown coverage, said bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment were not part of her experience during her 11 and a half years as a jockey. She said she simply “didn’t make room for it.” Her mother, Patti Barton, one of the first women to be licensed as a jockey in 1969 and among the top female jockeys during her career, took the same approach, Brothers said.
“I never felt I was treated as a sexual object in any way,” she said. “I handled myself professionally and I never wore a mini skirt to the jock’s room either.”
Brothers believe women are underrepresented in horse racing because there’s less mid-level racing than there was when she started, making it hard for female jockeys to rise through the ranks.
Still, women like her, her mother, Napravnik and others have proven that female jockeys can be as strong riders as men and win races at the highest level, Brothers said. Experience and hard work, not gender, made the difference.
Napravnik, who was regularly ranked among the top jockeys in North America in both earnings and total races won, agrees. But she said she still experienced trainers who refused to hire her because of her gender, and she took special delight in beating their horses and having those trainers come back and ask her to ride for them.
”People cannot resist winning, and so in my experience anybody that I can remember saying that to me, I rode for and won races for,” she said. “I feel like it was a personal victory of my own, like haha, I told you so.”
Go to any stable in your hometown and you’re likely to find plenty of teenage girls working and taking care of horses to help pay for their riding. But despite there being no shortage of girls who fall in love with horses from a very young age, there remain relatively few women and girls in horse racing. For instance, why aren’t there any female jockeys at the Kentucky Derby ? The answer seems more complicated than you might think.
That’s not to say there haven’t been women jockeys to make their own Run for the Roses throughout history. Most recently, there was Rosie Napravnik, who, in 2014’s race, had a respectable fifth-place finish. It was the best ever for any female jockey in the Kentucky Derby. But since then, the Derby’s had an all-male jockey lineup.
There are arguments out there about body composition offering male riders an advantage, but that sounds ridiculous in a sport where success is predicated on maintaining an extremely low weight, something that should offer women an obvious advantage. So frankly, considering there are both women and men with all sorts of body types and sizes, that seems like a ludicrous, sexist argument on its face.
What you can’t overlook is how totally, crazy dangerous horse racing is as a sport for any jockey. And, a recent spate of female jockeys killed while racing — four in just 14 months in 2013 to 2014— indicate that racing, for some reason, might just be for more deadly for women and girls. Is that what’s keeping women from reaching the highest levels of horse racing?
Depressingly, Napravnik told 60 Minutes in 2013 she has experienced some pretty heavy-duty sexism in the saddle including taunts of “Go home and have a baby!’ and “Go home and stay in the kitchen!” she said. But that’s just from the fans trying to talk smack before a race. They aren’t the ones controlling the sport. It’s the trainers owners that ultimately make the call on who races their horses, and they don’t sound much better.
“There are still owners and trainers that don’t want to ride a female,” she said in the 60 Minutes interview. “The only way that I deal with that is…to try to beat that person in a race.”
Win. That’s the only thing any woman can do to prove they deserve respect and equality. It’s not fair, but it’s just how it is. And although there aren’t any women lining up in the gates at Churchill Downs this year, that doesn’t mean the next future jockey to rock the horse racing game won’t be a woman. But the sport needs to encourage and support women like Napravnik, who has broken down barriers for the girls coming up behind her.
Women are under-represented in many top jobs. We investigate whether biased beliefs about female ability – a form of ‘mistake-based discrimination’ – are partially responsible for this under-representation. We use more than 10 years of data on the performance of female jockeys in U.K. and Irish horse racing – a sport where, uniquely, men and women compete side-by-side – to evaluate the presence of such discrimination. The odds produced by the betting market provide a window onto society’s beliefs about the abilities of women in a male-dominated occupation. We find that women are slightly underestimated, winning 0.3% more races than the market predicts. Female jockeys are underestimated to a greater extent in jump racing, where their participation is low. We discuss possible reasons for this association.
The betting public is behind the times in its assessment of female jump jockeys according to a statistical analysis of 1.6m rides over the last 18 years which was released by the British Horseracing Authority on Thursday. The study also suggests that while female riders outperformed their male counterparts at the Cheltenham Festival in March, parity in the number of rides for men and women will not be achieved for another 50 years on the Flat and almost a century over jumps.
Vanessa Cashmore, a PhD student at the University of Liverpool, conducted her research with support from Women In Racing and the Racing Foundation. Her analysis suggests that a National Hunt horse ridden by a female jockey at a starting price of even money has a 52 per cent chance of success, while a 9-1 shot has the same chance of winning as a male-ridden horse starting at 8-1.
Cashmore’s study also found that the use of female jockeys varies widely between trainers. In 2018, for instance, 46 per cent of all trainers did not use a female jockey on any of their runners, while 11.4 per cent of trainers with larger operations – defined as sending out at least 100 runners – did not use a single female rider.
Rides for women are also skewed towards older horses, with female jockeys taking 11.2 per cent of all rides on 14-year-olds over jumps but only 1.7 per cent of rides on jumpers aged three, four or five. This pattern was repeated on the Flat, where 15.7 per cent of the rides on 12-year-olds went to women but only 3.2 per cent of rides on two-year-olds
“This analysis seems to suggest there is a significant difference between the material performance of female jump jockeys and the public perception of their capability,” Cashmore said. “The betting public consistently underestimates these jockeys. This could be an indicator of negative public opinion about the ability of female riders but also ensures there is value to be found in backing horses ridden by female jockeys in Jump races.
“I hope this research can move us another step closer to altering attitudes towards female jockeys and more importantly, driving behavioural change.”
Three female jockeys – Bryony Frost, Lizzie Kelly and Rachael Blackmore – rode winners at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, with Blackmore adding a Grade One success on the 50-1 shot Minella Indo in the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle to her win on A Plus Tard, the 5-1 favourite for the Close Brothers Novice Handicap Chase, on an opening day.
As a result, 14.3 per cent of the 28 winners over the four-day Festival were ridden by women, despite only 9.2 per cent of the rides being taken by female jockeys.
That was still higher than the proportion of rides for women in the jumps season as a whole, however, despite an upward trend since 2014. Cashmore’s study found that female jockeys took 9.5 per cent of rides on the Flat in 2018 and 5.7 per cent of rides over jumps. When data from the last five years are included and the trend extrapolated, it suggests that women will take the same number of rides as men in 50 years’ time on the Flat and in the early part of the next century over jumps.
Tallulah Lewis, the chair of Women In Racing, said on Thursday that WIR is “delighted to be able to support Vanessa as she continues her ground-breaking research”.
Lewis added: “Riding a racehorse requires a high level of skill and strength which are abilities that can be developed by both sexes, with opportunity being the crucial final component. Vanessa’s research makes clear that if women have the same opportunities as their male counterparts they can compete very successfully as jockeys, just as they can in any other sphere in racing.” – Guardian
Last but not least
Let’s not forget the dangers and risks of being a jockey, with many deaths and injuries both to jockey and horse.
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