‘I’ve been to hell and back’: rider who beat his demons hopes to inspire others

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  • By Brian Radford

    A talented young rider who at his worst went to bed hoping he would never wake up hopes his experiences of “going to hell and back” might help others struggling with mental health issues.

    Drink, drugs and depression had resulted in Irish jockey Ray Dawson’s becoming homeless, and unable to pay his bills.

    Ray, 27, has turned his life around, and is now happy with partner Abbie and their five-month-old daughter Lila.

    “I’ve been to hell and back. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I had nothing to live for,” he said. “But I don’t want to die any more. Having Abbie and Lila is a gift that I don’t want to lose.

    “I’m changing lots of nappies. I help out. We go for walks every day. It’s been a very positive change. I’ve been lucky. Life wasn’t good in the past.”

    Ray said he “felt rotten” and his “mind was in a mess” but then one day, he decided enough was enough.

    “I’d been telling myself that I had to stop, but I hadn’t,” he said. “But now, I finally put my words into action. Though I couldn’t do it on my own. I needed to be guided in the right direction.”

    Ray turned to Sporting Chance, a charity, headed by former England football captain Tony Adams, that helps professional sportsmen beat addiction and mental health problems.

    Ray said: “He was huge. He knew what was happening to me. He’d been there, and come through it.

    “The Professional Jockeys’ Association was always there, too, and my close friend, Gihan, a brilliant horseman who works for trainer Roger Varian.

    “From the day I gave up drinking, and all the other things, my relationships with people began to blossom.

    “My energy came back, and I looked to the future. I was making up for lost time. I’m grateful to everyone who helped me.”

    The new Ray Dawson is now riding work for several leading trainers, including Roger Varian, Robert Cowell, and Terry Kent.

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    He added: “I’m raring to go. My confidence is sky-high. I’m ambitious. I want to ride lots of winners and, perhaps, be champion one day.”

    Ray rode 33 winners last season, part of the credit for which he gives to his agent, Adam Brook.

    Two victories on Varian’s smart filly Believe in Love, for huge Japanese owner Kaji Maeda, topped his triumphs.

    Sheikh Ahmad Al Maktoum was another major owner who booked him, confirming how highly he is rated.

    “I hope by opening up like this that I will help even one person to understand that there’s always a better life out there, if you try hard enough. I did. I’m a lucky guy.”

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