Why are there so few female jockeys?

27 August 2014

9:44 PM

27 August 2014

9:44 PM

In this week’s ‘The Turf’ column, Robin Oakley bemoans the lack of female jockeys in horse racing. This, he claims, is a result of the sport’s lack of opportunities for women:

‘I have banged on for years about the lack of opportunities for women jockeys in Britain. Some horses go even better for a girl and the good women jockeys like Hayley [Turner] … are as good as the boys. The problem is that few get the chance to become that good because they are denied enough rides by owners and trainers. You have to go 67 places down the championship list to find Hayley as the leading woman rider.

The crowds and the punters are happy with women jockeys — look at the numbers who turn up to Carlisle for their annual women-riders-only meeting — but the only girls who get a fair crack of the whip, so to speak, are those who have a trainer for a father, such as Amy Ryan, the champion apprentice of 2012.’

It’s certainly a shame that racing has this problem. But it’s even stranger when you consider the fact that in almost every other equestrian sport, women and men compete against one another on an equal playing field, and in the same competitions. Last weekend, both sexes competed in the Longines Global World Tour showjumping event on Horseguards Parade (in which first, second and third positions were taken by men, but fourth, fifth and sixth by women). And as I type, the World Equestrian Games are going on in Normandy. Again, almost every discipline is mixed, and the top ranked riders are of both sexes.


Of course the physical strength and stamina needed to be a professional jockey could be the impediment. But as Hayley Turner has put it before, ‘the horses are the ones running around’. Either way, almost all equine sports are physically demanding, and polo, which is arguably one of the most demanding, is played by both men and women. In this month’s Polo Times magazine (yes – niche, I know), Nina Clarkin, currently the best-rated female player in the world, commented:

‘I love the uniqueness of being rated in the same context as men and being able to compete together on a level playing field, as polo is one of the few sports where this is possible.’

I would never argue that any sport should be forced to include women – or men, for that matter. If a person isn’t good enough to compete, then that’s one thing. But if women are good enough to compete against men, then I don’t see why they shouldn’t be given the opportunity to do so. Perhaps racing should set an example to other sports, and give women a decent chance.

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Show comments
  • 1arritechno

    Jump forward fifteen months and you have Michelle Payne ; riding the winner of the Melbourne Cup. Not only the greatest race in Australia but among the best in the World.! She was the only female jockey in the race but she beat Frankie Dettori & many of the best hoops & horses in the World.
    Although a lack of opportunities is part of the problem ; it’s a Cycle compounded by another::
    Michelle was 30 yoa at the time of her Melbourne Cup win… and there lies the core of the problem.
    Most female jockeys drop out of racing before their prime ; whereas male jockeys build on a career.
    As a consequence, the ranks of the group one races are “male jockeys” with a winning reputation.
    Another issue of note; when Woman fall off a horse, on average, they sustain worse injuries as they are prone to “splay” rather than “roll” as males do. Unfortunately, Women are at greater risk, although special training could make up that difference I believe. On the advantage side: horses tend to bond better with female jockeys & that often leads to a better race performance ; I agree.
    Whether it be raising a family or too many falls… until woman become stayers & “master the craft”
    in being very experienced & thoroughly skilled like Michelle ; the status quo will be slow to change.
    Of course Women have the potential.!!! Plus there are more female apprentices each year but they need to be riding into their 30’s like the Men,,, to develop a lasting reputation in the Industry…

  • GraveDave

    Why does there have to be any?

    • Freedom

      There doesn’t. But a lot of what women have done or more precisely not done in the past was in accordance with prevailing ideas of what they could do — or what men would allow them to do. It is humiliating to be the s-x that has to be ‘allowed’, but might makes right is unfortunately the poor reasoners’ first port of call, and most societies (and people) have been poor reasoners. In a democracy, we naturally support and encourage human potential, wherever it might be found. Men, being nature’s darlings (if nature really loved me, it would have given me more testosterone instead of compromising all aspects of my existence for the sake of babies I don’t even want), have mainly done what they wanted to do. So no need to encourage them particularly: they’re already encouraged. But there was a day when it was assumed that women couldn’t write literary works outside of pious diaries, that they couldn’t ‘do’ science, and all the rest of it. Women are better than men think — or want to think.

  • Simon Fay

    Probably a horrific culture of sexual harrassment from high-flying untouchables like Red Rum, who took his awful secrets with him to the glue factory.

  • John birch

    Do we care

  • desperatedan

    Now let me see, I wonder why.
    Could it be the very important fact that riding race horses does require quite a bit of strength, and as men are built differently to women, (sorry about that, you can always complain to the EU) and are naturally stronger, it follows that there are more men jockeys.
    Not every woman wants to compete in traditional men’s roles, many do, it’s their choice, but please stop trying to make women feel somehow lacking, there are many activities in which women excel and men, quite frankly are hopeless.

    • wycombewanderer

      I spoke to a jockey many years ago about this and his explanation was indeed of a biological nature in that a womans pelvis is designed in such a way(for childbirth) that they are not only much weaker riding in the position that race jockeys take but are far more susceptible to train and injury.

      I’m not an anatomist and my knowledge of female pelvic regions is largely limited to the exterior but it kind of made sense.

  • CharlietheChump

    I blame Clare Balding

  • Frank

    Camilla, do you really think, in the context of events in the Middle East and the scandal at Rotherham (and the lack of action by our politicians), that the issue of female jockeys deserves any attention?

  • Upright Man

    I have no knowledge or desire for knowledge about jockey rankings, so I’m sceptical about the following comment. But if you ‘have to go 67 places down the championship list to find Hayley as the leading woman rider’ then maybe that suggests that women are not in fact as good as men at jockeying.
    Ultimately, I just don’t see the point in sports contested by people who are not, and never will be, the best. Let men and women compete together in everything and if there are some women who are able to keep up then fine, but otherwise girls can have rhythmic gymnasts and figure skaters as female role models.

  • Bert3000

    Why are there any jockeys? Horse racing only exists so that stupid people can waste money on betting.

  • Freedom

    Let’s hear it for the women! And Hayley happens to be an English rose, as well….

    • Kitty MLB

      Hello, I’ll second that , lets hear it for the women!
      And that English rose (with thorns) Boudicca knew how to
      deal with a horse without someone saying: climb down
      little lady,and feed the Romans instead.

  • Blindsideflanker

    Same reason why women and men’s sports are separated by gender in Athletics, Tennis, Rugby, football etc.

  • sfin

    (Sigh!) – The physical strength and stamina required to be a professional racing jockey has everything to do with it. The job also carries huge risk of personal injury.

    Why can’t some commentators accept the fact that the sexes are predisposed towards certain professions. It’s why men are under-represented in midwifery and childminding and women, similarly in firefighting, the police and armed forces.

    Equality doesn’t mean that the sexes are not different – and thank God for it!

    • fundamentallyflawed

      Yes its absolutely daft to compare the two. Horse racing is one of the few sports men and women (with the help of their horse of course) can compete at the same time but the physical requirements are immense and few women can compete at the highest level.

      • Freedom

        The point of this article is that, in equine sports, women can ‘compete at the highest level’. Don’t be a dimwit.

        • fundamentallyflawed

          No – they can compete in eventing and pure horsemanship events… They cannot compete in jump racing and rarely in flat racing due to the physical demands. If you know anything about horseracing you would know this already

          • Freedom

            So? The article is about jockeying. Why are you so insistent on missing the point? Chripes I have better things to do.

            • fundamentallyflawed

              No the article is about women specifically in horse racing. Ask anyone who follows horse racing if they would prefer a top male jockey or a female jockey on board in either code in a competitive finish and the answer will be male (although there will be disagreement over which male jockey of course :P)