Understanding Trainers’ mental health

Understanding Trainers’ mental health

Mental health and wellbeing   There is no doubt that the welfare of the horse is important and the public perception of how we care for the horse in training and on retirement impacts directly on the level of support we can expect from sponsors, racegoers and governments. The care of the horse, however, is wholly dependent upon those it is entrusted to and they are the ones who have often been neglected.  Racing Welfare was founded in the UK in 2000 and the service was expanded in 2014. In Ireland, the Industry Assistance Programme (IAP) was launched in 2016 and receives great publicity from Irish racing publications. Both support systems are easily accessed and provide a free and confidential 24-hour service, seven days a week, for everyone working, or who has previously worked, within the thoroughbred industry and their immediate family members.  Sadly, this is not the case elsewhere, but not from want of need. Many German trainers feel the wellbeing of industry professionals in German racing is sadly ignored. If the Direktorium has any regard or respect for stable staff, it is escaping without notice.  “At the Baden-Baden meetings, the stable staff are still living in squalor by today’s standards,” one trainer, who prefers not to be named, tells us. “Jockeys with welfare or alcohol problems are pushed aside and never heard of again. There is no Injured Jockeys Fund, no helplines or advice for a future career. For this day and age that is a really shameful state of affairs.  “It’s time these issues were aired. After all, without our dedicated workforce we have no racing. I have personally helped various people from the industry who have fallen on hard times, even in one case an attempted suicide, and have received no support. It has reached a point where I now only run horses in France when at all possible, I have lost all faith in German racing.”  That really is a damning indictment, particularly as one trainer went so far as to say that their support of an industry professional who had hit rock bottom earned them nothing but derision. It is interesting, too, that none of these individuals wanted to be named. Not for their own modesty, but in respect of the confidentiality of those they had helped.  This same sense of a lack of care and concern was reiterated by a French trainer unaware of AFASEC ( www.afasec.fr ), a service for racing and breeding professionals. AFASEC (Association of Training and Social Action Racing Stables) was commissioned by France Galop and the French Horse Encouragement Society in 1988 for the training and support of employees of racing stables throughout their career path. The association is managed under the double supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Economy and Finance.  AFASEC ensures the training of future employees through the French Horse Racing School and offers support to employees throughout their professional life. Five social workers and two social and family economics counsellors are at the disposal of 4,000 French racing professionals. Their mission is to inform, help and support in their professional and personal lives. The social workers can then refer those looking for support to relevant services.  The lack of awareness of this service among some French trainers suggests that more publicity is needed to ensure every racing industry professional has the necessary contact details and can avail of this service when required. The need for trainers to make such services known and displayed in the yard is paramount.     The confidentiality of the support network set up in Britain and Ireland is vital to its success, and Racing Welfare and HRI/CARE prefer not to reveal figures regarding the number of individuals who have availed of the service. However, Racing Welfare supported more than 2,200 people in 2017 with a wide range of challenges, which represents a significant proportion of racing’s workforce.  One trainer who is happy to discuss the help she received from the IAP is Clare Cannon, in County Down, Northern Ireland. She holds a Restricted Licence, with only four horses in her yard, and struggles to make her business pay.  Following the particularly harsh winter and spiralling costs, coupled with the retirement of her best horse, Cannon considered giving up and joining the many Irish trainers to have relinquished their licence this year.  “It doesn’t matter how big or small a trainer is, the problems are the same—just on a different scale,” she points out. “A lot of things had happened to me on top of each other. It reached a point when I thought, ‘why am I even doing this’? The biggest thing is that since going to the IAP I’ve had such a great season. If I’d not got help and I’d given up, I would have been watching someone else having a great year with my horses.”  That’s a sobering thought, and Cannon considers it important to share her experience, to prevent someone else giving up unnecessarily. “People have to talk,” she says. “It’s hard to talk to your family and often you get no help from your doctor, so who do you go to? The IAP is so important.  “The doctor tried to put me on antidepressants, but that wasn’t the route I wanted to take. I felt what I really needed was some moral support. I needed support, but I could be six months on the waiting list for a counselling service through my doctor, and I just didn’t have the money to pay for private help. HRI had been very proactive and had sent out a lot of leaflets, so I tried the IAP.  “The process was a little bit of backwards and forwards to begin with, to be connected with the right help and to show I was committed, but I was helped very quickly. I was so happy with the outcome. Mental health is so hard to get help with unless you are going private and that’s hard to pay for, which is often the root of the problem in the first place.”  Cannon also highlights another dilemma that can hold people back from contacting support networks. “At one point I thought, here I am looking for the industry to support me and I don’t even feel like I belong. But then I remembered my licence and I pay every year to have that and to train horses, so why shouldn’t I try this? But I did wonder whether I was eligible; I was expecting to be knocked back.  “The IAP helped me with six sessions of counselling. The counsellor helped me recognise my negative thought patterns were unjustified and taught me how to break them. I literally came back from the last session when a grant application for a project I have been trying to get off the ground needed to be in, and her words were still buzzing in my ears, so I just sat down and filled in the form and sent it off.  “To receive that grant was so important. Without it, I couldn’t get the project off the ground. My passion is to help others. Setting up the project ‘Behind The Stable Door’ was an integral part of my recovery; it’s my passion. I was struggling to find my niche and I wanted to help people, but my time is tied to the farm; I can’t leave the farm. I wanted to be able to open my stable doors to people with disabilities and learning difficulties, to enable them to come in and work alongside me and develop skills, responsibility and purpose.”  Through the IAP, Cannon was able to achieve that goal, diversify her business and improve her own quality of life as well as that of others.  There clearly is a need for a free and confidential helpline in every racing jurisdiction, and the benefits to staff recruitment and, just as importantly, retention are obvious. Visitors to the existing welfare websites are greeted with a modern view of a career for life, with personal development and training, support network and career paths clearly defined.  http://www.workinracing.ie/industry-welfare  https://racingwelfare.co.uk  This is the image we need to present to the general public if we want to attract newcomers to the industry, but importantly we need to provide the services both websites offer in order to retain staff. There are a variety of reasons why staff can become disillusioned with their job and seek a change, and the racing industry is unique in some of the other challenges it can present in daily work. The stress, commitment and personal attachment when working with animals is unlike that faced in any other workplace, and if we extend that to the trainer, who must cope with all of those aspects in addition to managing staff and supporting them as they cope, the need for a support system is clear.  Where such a system is not in place, it is falling on the shoulders of trainers to do their best for employees and former employees. Who is there to help the trainer and ensure the support they are attempting to offer is of value? By ignoring this issue and allowing the burden to fall on the trainer, the racing authority is simply creating an additional victim.  Simone Sear, Racing Welfare explains  “ Racing Welfare is committed to supporting the mental wellbeing of everyone working in or retired from the horseracing industry. We already provide a range of services to support physical and mental wellbeing. However, in order to improve and develop these to meet the needs of today’s workforce, we have undertaken an industry-wide research project in partnership with Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) which has been part funded by a grant from The Racing Foundation. The study is being led by LJMU’s Will McConn and focuses on the relationship between an individual’s mental health and a life in racing. Will has met with 130 people across the country through a series of interviews and regional focus groups, and although trainers are not the sole focus of the research, they have provided a highly valuable insight.  “Positive mental health enables people to reach their full potential, work productively, cope with life’s stressors and contribute to their communities. This ground-breaking research will enable Racing Welfare, and the wider horseracing industry, to make evidence based decisions in order to develop bespoke mental health support services that are fully accessible to everyone in racing.”    In September 2017 Racing Welfare sponsored an industry-wide research programme conducted by Will McConn. “Not exclusive to trainers, but trainers have played a really important part,” as Marshall tells us. “Will McConn has spent the whole year going around the country, meeting with people working in the racing industry and mapping out the state of mental health, looking at the main reasons for stress and how that impacts on wellbeing.  “His work with racing staff is nearly finished and he will now be catching racecourse staff and associated professions. His findings will be ready for publication in May. Racing is a very forward-thinking industry, and we think we know some of the issues, but it’s a case of getting the evidence; we’re finding some things that no one has previously thought about. It will impact the shape of the services we offer, and we hope it will drive racing to the forefront of sport. It’s very exciting and every time I talk about it to someone, we recognise this is going to be huge,” reveals Marshall.  The services offered by Racing Welfare are already broad and include Racing’s Support Line, a 24-hour helpline that enables people to access support and guidance through digital, telephone and SMS text options. An “Ask a Question” feature allows users to seek personalised advice and coaching through a web form, and a “Live Chat” feature lets people communicate directly in real-time with an adviser.  Staff also have access to support from the National Chaplain to Horseracing, regardless of their religious beliefs. The service provides support to individuals or to entire yards or studs at times of crisis or need. Pastor Simon Bailey has built a pastoral care team for the support of racing staff throughout the UK, and anyone can contact him on 07877 981498 or at sbailey@racingwelfare.co.uk  The “Be Friendly” service was launched in January 2018 and is a telephone befriending service for vulnerable, lonely or isolated people from the horseracing industry. The service is named after the dual Haydock Sprint Cup winner owned by Sir Peter O’Sullevan, a long-standing supporter of the charity. Trained Befrienders make calls on a regular basis, not only to have a chat but also to ensure that everything is OK.  In Ireland, the IAP recognises the insufficient support mechanisms within the industry. Advancement and bettering yourself is only a goal if you are well, physically and mentally. The IAP is completely independent and confidential from HRI and is delivered by Workplace Options, who recently launched the iConnectYou app, available to download from the Apple Store or from Google Play.  Patrick Ryan, coordinator of the CARE department within HRI, is one of the driving forces behind increasing awareness of the IAP and says, "We've been busy spreading the word about the Industry Assistance Programme (IAP), during the summer we sent information packs to all training establishments and stud farms in Ireland. We are keen to highlight that the IAP is available to everyone in the Irish Racing industry and the programme is 100% independent, 100% confidential, available to access 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year, and completely free of charge to access.  “Workplace Options (who deliver the IAP on behalf of HRI) launched an app this summer called iConnectYou, the app is a great addition as people may find it easier to look for support through text rather than speaking to somebody over the phone, it may be a less daunting way of coming forward and looking for help. The programme also offers face-to-face counselling if it is deemed necessary. It means that everyone who works in Irish Racing, no matter what their personal circumstances, has access to professional support.”  The IAP is staffed by a team of qualified professionals in fields such as wellbeing, family matters, relationships, workplace issues, consumer rights, and much more, but it is not just for serious personal issues. It can also be used as an information service, for example if you are heading on holiday and want a list of hotels with professional child-minding facilities, the IAP will source that information for you, freeing you up to concentrate on the things that are important to you.  It is accessible by phone, email, instant messaging and website, offering professional consultation, short-term counselling, information, resources and referrals to services in your local area, and there is no limit to the number of issues you can gain support on.  Areas of expertise include emotional wellbeing, disability and illness, substance and alcohol misuse, personal development, work-life balance, workplace pressure, managing change, career guidance, childcare, elder care, education, domestic violence or abuse, consumer rights, relocation, pregnancy and new baby, adoption, marriage and cohabitation, separation and divorce, bereavement and loss, and retirement.  Isn’t it high time these valuable services were made available to all trainers and industry personnel, in every European racing jurisdiction?

By Lissa Oliver

There is no doubt that the welfare of the horse is important and the public perception of how we care for the horse in training and on retirement impacts directly on the level of support we can expect from sponsors, racegoers and governments. The care of the horse, however, is wholly dependent upon those it is entrusted to and they are the ones who have often been neglected.

Racing Welfare was founded in the UK in 2000 and the service was expanded in 2014. In Ireland, the Industry Assistance Programme (IAP) was launched in 2016 and receives great publicity from Irish racing publications. Both support systems are easily accessed and provide a free and confidential 24-hour service, seven days a week, for everyone working, or who has previously worked, within the thoroughbred industry and their immediate family members.

Sadly, this is not the case elsewhere, but not from want of need. Many German trainers feel the wellbeing of industry professionals in German racing is sadly ignored. If the Direktorium has any regard or respect for stable staff, it is escaping without notice.

“At the Baden-Baden meetings, the stable staff are still living in squalor by today’s standards,” one trainer, who prefers not to be named, tells us. “Jockeys with welfare or alcohol problems are pushed aside and never heard of again. There is no Injured Jockeys Fund, no helplines or advice for a future career. For this day and age that is a really shameful state of affairs.

“It’s time these issues were aired. After all, without our dedicated workforce we have no racing. I have personally helped various people from the industry who have fallen on hard times, even in one case an attempted suicide, and have received no support. It has reached a point where I now only run horses in France when at all possible, I have lost all faith in German racing.”

That really is a damning indictment, particularly as one trainer went so far as to say that their support of an industry professional who had hit rock bottom earned them nothing but derision. It is interesting, too, that none of these individuals wanted to be named. Not for their own modesty, but in respect of the confidentiality of those they had helped.

This same sense of a lack of care and concern was reiterated by a French trainer unaware of AFASEC (www.afasec.fr), a service for racing and breeding professionals. AFASEC (Association of Training and Social Action Racing Stables) was commissioned by France Galop and the French Horse Encouragement Society in 1988 for the training and support of employees of racing stables throughout their career path. The association is managed under the double supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

AFASEC ensures the training of future employees through the French Horse Racing School and offers support to employees throughout their professional life. Five social workers and two social and family economics counsellors are at the disposal of 4,000 French racing professionals. Their mission is to inform, help and support in their professional and personal lives. The social workers can then refer those looking for support to relevant services.

The lack of awareness of this service among some French trainers suggests that more publicity is needed to ensure every racing industry professional has the necessary contact details and can avail of this service when required. The need for trainers to make such services known and displayed in the yard is paramount.

The confidentiality of the support network set up in Britain and Ireland is vital to its success, and Racing Welfare and HRI/CARE prefer not to reveal figures regarding the number of individuals who have availed of the service. However, Racing Welfare supported more than 2,200 people in 2017 with a wide range of challenges, which represents a significant proportion of racing’s workforce.

One trainer who is happy to discuss the help she received from the IAP is Clare Cannon, in County Down, Northern Ireland. She holds a Restricted Licence, with only four horses in her yard, and struggles to make her business pay.

Clare Cannon

Following the particularly harsh winter and spiralling costs, coupled with the retirement of her best horse, Cannon considered giving up and joining the many Irish trainers to have relinquished their licence this year.

“It doesn’t matter how big or small a trainer is, the problems are the same—just on a different scale,” she points out. “A lot of things had happened to me on top of each other. It reached a point when I thought, ‘why am I even doing this’? The biggest thing is that since going to the IAP I’ve had such a great season. If I’d not got help and I’d given up, I would have been watching someone else having a great year with my horses.”

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