This is a first post from amateur jockey and professional academic Emma Lyons – another remarkable woman we’ve added to the stable of cliché-crunching, stereotype-stomping bloggers in the Princess Pit!
Here she gets the bit between her teeth about the sport of racing, and how women still have many hurdles to face, when it comes to being recognised for the contributions.
International Women’s Day?
Not at Cheltenham it wasn’t.
I’ve been planning on putting pen to paper regarding perspectives on women in sport for too long. While I tend to make an effort when training, unfortunately I do procrastinate when sitting down to put my thoughts on paper.
However, the recent controversy regarding the women’s senior soccer team with the FAI spurred me into doing what I’ve been thinking about for quite some time: blogging about how women in my sport, that of horse racing, are celebrated. (or not!)
I’m an avid horse racing enthusiast and I was lucky enough to achieve one of my life’s goals: getting my amateur jockey’s licence and to ride in Punchestown (as well as many point-to-points). For me, there was absolutely nothing like it: the speed, the thrill and the energy!
So, given my love of the sport, and the ever-increasing involvement, success and recognition of women such as Rachel Blackmore (first female professional jockey in many years) jockeys Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh; trainers Jessica Harrington and Sandra Hughes and Aintree Grand National winning trainer, Lucinda Russell, I was curious to see what racing themed posts would be published online and on Twitter about International Women’s Day.
What did I find?
No reference to Irish Women’s Day, no reference to our sporting heroines, and no reference to the entries in Cheltenham with strong “female” connections – either those trained by, or to be ridden by a female. None of the prominent and widely followed sites, TV channels, reporters or race courses made any mention of International Women’s Day.
Well, not quite nothing.
There was this, from one of the race course Twitter accounts.
A picture of a glammed up “lady” advertising an upcoming race day.
Not quite what I was hoping for.
Another race course did make reference to a female of a different type – the horse equivalent – Benie Des Dieux who won a mares race last year. And that was it! No other references to International Women’s Day or women in the sport.
International Women’s Day occurred in the week before the Cheltenham Festival which is the pinnacle of the jump racing season. During the build up, all sport media channels devote a lot of air time, column inches and social media bytes covering the entries, the favourites and the fancies.
For the 2017 festival, there was a strong contingent of female trainers and jockeys. However, apart from the jaded references to Ladies Day (which include tips and suggestions such as what designer dress and tan to wear while going to the races), there was no celebration or promotion on International Women’s Day of the hopeful female jockeys, trainers and owners.
Lizzie Kelly was the first female entrant in the Gold Cup since 1984 (The Gold Cup is the biggest steeplechase event in the world).
Jessica Harrington became the 3rd women to train a winner of the Gold Cup, She also had two more winners over the festival, and as of 26th April, Jessica is the Irish Grand National, Cheltenham and Punchestown Gold Cups winning trainer for 2017.
Briony Fox won the Foxhunter Hunter Chase, the amateur equivalent of the Gold Cup which makes her the third successive female winner in three years (Another amazing female jockey, Nina Carberry won the 2016 and 2015 races).
Horse Racing is a sport that receives great public attention, and provides employment and enjoyment for the public, owners, trainers, jockeys, stable-staff and breeders (both male and female). The increased role of women in racing was really noticeable in the 2017 festival.
Given that horse racing is one of the few sports where men and women compete equally, it would have been nice to see, in the floods of of media coverage and commentary during Cheltenham, some reference to International Women’s Day. It would have been a lovely way to recognise the significant contribution women have made in the drama, interest and and success of the sport I love.