Research presented at the Horseracing Industry Conference on behalf of Racing Welfare has found racehorse training to be an inherently stressful occupation, identifying a number of repetitive themes which have been found to impact on the health and wellbeing of trainers.
Simone Sear, Racing Welfare’s Director of Welfare, presented the findings of her Thoroughbred Horseracing Industry MBA (THIMBA) research into the occupational stressors for racehorse trainers at the Horseracing Industry Conference yesterday, 5th February. Funded by The Racing Foundation, the study was undertaken in completion of the University of Liverpool’s THIMBA programme. It aimed to identify the specific occupational stressors that exist for racehorse trainers in order to assess the need for a bespoke trainer’s support service.
As part of the qualitative research, a sample of licensed trainers took part in anonymous and unstructured interviews during which they were encouraged to speak freely to allow a full understanding of each individual’s perspective. The participants identified a range of stressors including business and finance worries, the rules of racing, the fixture list, a lack of resources, relentless work schedules, managing stressful episodes with racehorse owners and staff, and in balancing their own emotions. The most commonly raised issues were those that were felt to be out of a participant’s control and particularly related to racehorses; keeping horses healthy and injury-free, having the right horses in order to win races, and the pressure to perform in relation to both the participant and their horses. All were found to be engaged in intensive emotional labour, combined with long work hours and busy schedules in an effort to give a good service to their owners, resulting in a ‘time famine’. Participants were found to be supplementing an unviable training business with other income streams from alternative business, jobs or through a partner’s income and skills. Additionally, all those interviewed had experienced abusive messages by voicemail, email or social media.
“The research has established the link that trainers have with multiple other highly stressful occupations and so highlights the potential seriousness of the issues they face.”Simone Sear
The impact of occupational stressors on trainers resulted in symptoms of mental-ill health brought on by emotional toll, sleep deprivation, insomnia and isolation resulting in outcomes such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, low confidence and recurrent headaches. Physical health issues included recurrent viral and bacterial infections, blood pressure issues and stomach ulcers.
In terms of participant’s suggestions as to what might help, a break in the racing calendar was the intervention that most felt would reduce the impact of stressors as the demands of the current fixture list was a major cause of worry. Having someone to talk to that understands the role, mentor schemes and improvements to education and training were also suggested as measures that would be helpful.
“Although there is nothing stopping them using our existing services, the reality is that trainers believe that there is no support network to access themselves.” The research provides the industry with initial information which should inform future change, and ultimately will start a conversation about how best to support those whose roles underpin the sport of horseracing.”
Simone Sear, Director of Welfare
As a result of all of the findings outlined, Racing Welfare, in partnership with the National Trainers Federation (NTF), is looking to develop a bespoke trainer’s support service to ensure that this group, without whom so many aspects of the racing operation would not happen, are better supported going forwards. The charity will work with the NTF to develop a service in consultation with trainers to ensure that is it fully accessible, fit for purpose and meets their needs.
“Most trainers will recognise the depiction of their working lives drawn so vividly in Simone Sear’s report of her MBA research. The report shows the need to define the right support mechanisms to help trainers cope when the pressures are at their height. The NTF looks forward to working with Racing Welfare to develop that support.”
Rupert Arnold, Chief Executive, National Trainers Federation