From The Guardian
John Moores UniversityThe suggestion in Saturday’s Guardian that racing does not yet do enough to promote wellbeing among jockeys has been backed up by one rider who has had serious problems maintaining his weight at the low level required by the sport. Gary Bartley, a flat jockey since 2003, spoke on Sundaya bout how his struggles with the scales over the past five years had “pushed me to the edge of insanity”.

Bartley admits that he used to engage in “flipping”, the habit of self-induced vomiting which is apparently still relied on by some of Britain’s jockeys, along with other unhealthy practices, including drinking alcohol as an aid to weight loss. “I was dehydrating myself, sweating in the bath,” he says. “It puts you in a bad place. You take your pressures out on your family.”

The lowest point came in 2013, when Bartley gave up on racing and tried to find work elsewhere. Tempted back into action that autumn, he moved into jump racing, in which horses carry more, and still found himself putting up overweight.

Bartley’s story took a happier turn last year, when he was the last of 20 volunteers to sign up for a study of jockeys’ health at Liverpool John Moores University. A diet and an exercise regime was designed for him and he was stunned to find himself eating more and losing weight.

He reduced his body fat percentage by a third to 12% in six weeks, has cut out the booze, feels healthier and is reasserting himself on the track. “I’m a better person to speak to and work with, hydrated and going to work with my breakfast inside me,” he says. “I did 8st 13lb [for a race] on Boxing Day. I’m normally about 10 stone on Boxing Day.”

The John Moores study, in the Guardian on Saturday by Dr Philip Pritchard, a familiar figure in racing, found that 15 of the 20 jockeys were suffering from depression, which Pritchard feels has been caused by the constant pressure to make weight. The academics produced a protein-rich diet for the volunteers, parceled it to their doors and achieved, Pritchard reports, a general improvement in their metabolism.

“I don’t think it’s a diet, it’s a life-change,” Bartley says. “It’s educated me how to do it properly.”

Bartley feels the nutrition advice he received at racing school “many years ago” was ineffective and fears, from what he observes of teenagers in the weighing room, that the problem still exists. “These kids just need a bit of guidance. If we all come together as a system, sat round a table and discussed it, I’m sure there’s some way we could do it.”

That sounds like an excellent idea, if you accept that the sport should do what it can to promote the health of jockeys, as a fair exchange for their willingness to accept the risks and the deprivations of the job. And it appears the British Horseracing Authority is interested in the subject.

Robin Mounsey, its spokesman, pointed out that “participant welfare” is one of the pillars of racing’s continuing strategic review and, said Carole Goldsmith, appointed to an HR role in the autumn, the authority would be considering industry welfare issues. The BHA, he said, was “keen” to develop the work being done at John Moores.

Paul Struthers of the Professional Jockeys Association denied that jockey habits were generally as bad as claimed by Pritchard and asserted that an “excellent support network” exists for riders, while accepting there remains a lot to do. To that end, he is collaborating with the BHA on a strategy to “transform the training and general development of jockeys”.

According to Struthers, “a significant minority of jockeys take their fitness very seriously”. It is encouraging to hear that racing’s officials do not intend to let the matter rest there.