Life as a Female Jump Jockey
Lucy Alexander Talks Highs and Lows
Gender inequality in the workplace has become a serious issue of discussion in recent times from office cubicles to parliamentary debates. However once less explored area of gender inequality in work is in relation to life as a female jockey.
You have to go over fifty places down the championship list to find a female name despite the high numbers of women who ride and work in stables, the number of female jockeys remains stagnant.
We managed to catch up with Scotland’s first professional female jockey, Lucy Alexander, who since turning professional in September 2011 has made a massive contribution to National Hunt racing breaking Lorna Vincent's 1980 record of 22 winners for a female jockey in a British jumps season, to see what her experiences have been like in the role.
Thank you for joining us today Lucy, so what is it that motivated you to become a female jockey?
My family are involved in horse racing so I was always interested in the sport and rode in races as an amateur before my agent encouraged me to turn professional and do it properly full time. I thought it would be good to get paid to do something I had been doing previously for fun!
Indeed, her uncle Jamie and brother Kit both proving successful amateur riders, while a race at Kelso is named in memory of her grandfather, Cyril.
Lucy is clearly dedicated to her profession and ensures to pay attention to her own health and fitness as well as riding. When asked, what her typical day consisted of, she replied:
It depends on whether I am racing or not but pretty much always an early start followed by riding out (training exercise/jumping at a racing yard) then drive to the races, (it can be anywhere in UK but most of the time is in Scotland or Northern England), ride in however many races I am booked for that day then drive home. On days when I'm not racing I will normally ride out in the morning and work on fitness in the afternoon.
According to figures published by The Guardian in 2012, that year female jockeys only made up only 46 of a total of 435 jockeys in the UK. We asked Lucy about her thoughts.
You are within a minority as a female jockey, what has your experience been like in regards to this?
I have never had any problems with other jockeys and proved myself to them when be-coming the first girl to be champion conditional jockey but there are certainly some own-ers/trainers that would prefer to use male jockeys and don't want to get a girl hurt.
Why do you think there are so few female jockeys in general?
It is dangerous with injury a common part of the job and you have to be physically strong. Also it is tough regardless of your sex but female jockeys do get less opportunities than the men especially over jumps.
Do you think girls should be encouraged to take this up, or sports in general up more as a serious profession?
Well you have to be realistic and see if you will be able to earn a living but if you are pre-pared to work hard and understand the risks it can be very rewarding and a fun way of life. However I do think girls have a better chance of success as flat jockeys than over jumps and injury is less likely.
Jacqui Oliver, who raced in the Grand National in the late 80s, said that after a flurry of female jockeys coming through the ranks, a spate of injuries seemed to scare owners and trainers off – because they were frightened of a female jockey injuring herself and unfortunately that mentality doesn’t seem to have changed.
However, Sally Rowley-Williams, chair of Women in Racing, an organisation dedicated to improving the profile of women in the sport agrees that there is a glass ceiling, but is pleased to see things are improving – thanks to women like Lucy.
In regards to the future, Lucy was very much dedicated to staying within the industry.
Sports careers tend to be somewhat shorter than traditional professions, do you have any ideas about how you may choose to support yourself in the future?
I don't know for sure but it would be quite likely that I would stay within the horse racing industry.
Lucy twice tried life as a student at Edinburgh University, first studying biology and then sports science, but barely got beyond freshers’ week both times.
You left university - twice - do you ever regret that?
Not exactly, you have to take the chance of being a jockey at the right moment and while you're young enough. If I needed to retrain hopefully my exam results from school would be enough to get me back into university.
When can we see you in action next?
Unfortunately I am currently on the sidelines with a fractured cheekbone but hoping to be back before too long.
Lucy was speaking to Naina Bhardwaj.