First, I would like to say how very sorry I was to hear about the tragic death of Natasha Galpin while riding work for trainer Iain Jardine. My deepest condolences go out to her family and colleagues.
We do this job day in, day out, and rarely allow the fear of injury, or worse, to come into our minds. However, what has happened to Natasha gives us all a reality check.
Recently, I wrote a blog for my website about the staffing crisis in racing and how tough it is being a small trainer. I have been overwhelmed with the feedback and support from other trainers, staff and the public.
As a small trainer, the struggle to keep going is relentless. I am self-sufficient, with no partner or family involved in my business. I still ride out six horses a day while also trying to be a good mother. However, I was shocked to discover that I pay my staff more money than a lot of the big training yards, and my staff receive more time off, too.
My staff get 1.5 days off every week regardless of how busy we are and, on the rare occasion we cannot avoid them working their afternoon, they get two days off the following week or they add it to their holiday tally.
In racing, the majority of trainers still expect their staff to work 12.5 days a fortnight — with every other Saturday afternoon and Sunday off.
We are not in the dark ages and, while I do understand that horses are a seven-day-a-week job (I have done it full time for 30 years), we all need to have our downtime.
For me, it is so important for my mental health to get that day away from the yard with my family and, even if we don’t go anywhere, not getting up at 5.30am or answering the phone constantly makes a huge difference.
Lacking in skill
Long gone are the days when those of us who worked with horses accepted it was rubbish pay and long hours — there was never any overtime but we did it for the love. However, that attitude is rare now and with more kids going to college to do courses that really have no place in the “real world”, we are seriously lacking skilled workers and riders in racing.
The demise of riding schools is leaving a massive gap in the development of young riders. It breaks my heart when I see children, who are clearly terrified, riding horses that are so fresh that they cannot handle them.
We need more rider teaching in racing. I don’t care that they are racehorses — they still need riders who have balance, soft hands and empathy. This can only happen when the riders understand the horses and what makes them tick.
For me, getting to ride racehorses each and every day is still the best job in the world, even after 30 years.
Ref Horse & Hound; 24 January 2019