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New research identifies a number of occupational stressors for racehorse trainers Image

New research identifies a number of occupational stressors for racehorse trainers

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Research presented at the Horseracing Industry Conference on Tuesday 5th February 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, which was undertaken on behalf of Racing Welfare and funded by the Racing Foundation 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 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.

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.

In addition, the Racing Foundation is currently funding a larger research project looking at issues affecting mental health across the racing industry. The research is being conducted by Will McConn at Liverpool John Moores University, in conjunction with Racing Welfare and the findings will be available in May. The survey for this research is still live so we are appealing to all those involved in the racing industry to take part using this link:

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