A Gap in the Horse-Racing Industry: Female Jockeys
t’s no secret that horse racing, like many other professional sports, is a boys club. However, unlike many other sports such as football or hockey where men have a clear physical advantage over women, the same can’t be said for jockeying. In fact, until recently, it was unclear as to whether or not men had any advantage at all over women in this sport, despite their over-representation and the fact that women were not permitted to compete in most races until quite recently. If you were betting in the USA before 1975, you would have been betting on a man.
Now those days are over. Data shows that despite common prejudices and stereotypes about female jockeys, there is no evidence to suggest that they suffer from any handicap when competing against men. These biases have colored public perception of female jockeys to the point that only 14% of jockeys are women—despite the fact that women account for around 80% of all horseback riders.
Still a Boy’s Club
According to a study conducted by the Thoroughbred Horseracing Industries MBA program at the University of Liverpool, the performance of female jockeys is equal to that of their male counterparts, despite misconceptions.
The study used stringent methodology to examine data spanning the previous 14 years, and the results were clear. Once the quality and capabilities of the horses being ridden were taken into account, the performance differences between male and female jockeys became nonexistent.
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.
The author of the study is Vanessa Cashmore, who is a Work Based Learning Manager at the Northern Racing College in the United Kingdom. Cashmore is also a graduate of the Thoroughbred Horseracing Industries MBA program, which is run by the University of Liverpool with endowments from the British Horseracing Authority, the Horserace Betting Levy Board and the Racing Foundation.
“This study strongly indicates that female jockeys are every bit as good as their male counterparts. I hope it helps to provide more opportunities for female jockeys, and also encourages more women to further their careers as race riders,” says Cashmore, author of the study referenced in this article.
The BHA has today reiterated its commitment to take steps to address the disparity between male and female riding opportunities, working with the sport’s recently-formed Diversity in Racing Steering Group.
The British Horseracing Authority has since declared its commitment to assisting efforts to help close the gap between men and women when it comes to rising opportunities, and has partnered with outreach organization Diversity in Racing Steering Group to help achieve this goal.
Comments From the Racing and Riding Community
Alt: The top of a horse racing trophy against a blue background.
Nick Rust, Chief Executive of the British Horseracing Authority issued the following statement:
“This study provides further evidence towards something that many in the industry have felt for some time – that there is no reason why female jockeys should not be considered as good as their male counterparts.
We are proud that British racing is one of the few sports where men and women can compete on equal terms. However, if female jockeys are not being given the same opportunities as the men, then this cannot be considered as equality.
“Understanding why there are fewer female jockeys than male, and why those jockeys get fewer rides than the men – in particular in higher profile races – is something that we are determined to address, and will be considered by the sport’s dedicated Diversity in Racing Steering Group.
“Racing should be based on values of fairness and respect. We intend to ensure that these values underpin all aspects of the sport and that British racing provides fair opportunities for all of its participants.
“As part of the BHA’s ongoing commitment to address diversity issues, it is continuing to monitor the situation in France whereby France Galop has provided female jockeys with a weight allowance in certain races. The BHA will consider the results of the French initiative, the views of the Diversity in Racing Steering Group, the findings of Vanessa’s study and further statistical analysis to be undertaken internally, in the coming months, to determine any short and long-term steps that must be taken to improve equal opportunities for female jockeys.”
Susannah Gill, spokesperson for the Diversity in Racing Steering Group, made the following statement:
“The research takes us one step closer to putting the tired argument about strength and capability on the scrap heap and focusing on changing perception, on changing attitudes and most importantly driving behavioral change.
“The Diversity in Racing Steering Group was created following the release of research into gender representation and diversity in British horseracing by Oxford Brookes University, in partnership with Women in Racing.
“The Group is seeking to champion the diversity and inclusion agenda in British horseracing by working collaboratively to enhance these vital areas and to be a forum for discussion and new ideas. By working together we can ensure our sport welcomes and supports talented people from a diverse background so we can all contribute, on the basis of equal opportunities, to the future success of British horseracing.”
Gemma Tutty; jockey, rider, and winner of 50 championships, made the following statement:
“This study confirms what we already knew and have been saying all along, that female jockeys can be just as good as male jockeys. I hope this study helps to persuade more owners and trainers to give female jockeys a chance in the saddle, especially in the bigger races.”
Neil Coster, Director of Studies for the Thoroughbred Horseracing Industries MBA at University of Liverpool Management School, made this statement:
“The Thoroughbred Horseracing Industries MBA provides the skills, background and knowledge to help people prepare for senior management positions in the horseracing industry. This study, among a number produced by our first graduating cohort, demonstrates the value of our unique MBA.”
Rob Hezel, CEO of the Racing Foundation, stated that:
“I am delighted that the investment made in supporting the industry MBA is providing a positive return not just for the individuals completing the course but for the wider industry. The Foundation continues to support training, education and research and welcomes decision makers taking the opportunity to embrace the findings of research to improve the industry for both current and future participants. Vanessa’s work and previous research by Oxford Brookes University demonstrate that gender diversity is clearly an issue for racing and it is great to see it being addressed in an open, informed and constructive way”.