Lionesses, Irish Rugby and now British Equestrian – will racing follow?

Enter the England Lionesses to Wembley Stadium, facing Brazil in the Women’s Finalissima fresh from winning the Football European Championships months earlier. The Lionesses strode out with extra confidence beyond that provided by their new title accolade, as they debuted blue playing shorts, switching from white.

Where outcomes in elite sport are often determined by marginal gains – no athlete should have the distraction of period leakage worry potentially affecting their performance. It was through the Lionesses team campaigning to the Football Association (FA) that the change was approved.

The decision to address this cultural change may have given the Lionesses the edge they needed to beat Brazil 4-2 on penalties…

Why is this important?

Research released this month reveals the ‘significant impact of period stigma on young girls in the UK, as one in three (33%) aged 11-16 are uncomfortable taking part in physical activity whilst menstruating’ (Nuffield Health).

Football players cite use of the contraceptive pill to stop/delay periods, or under layer shorts acting as a pre-prepared solution, but this does not always address the issue. The FA implemented a widespread approach to support all players, removing barriers to participation while normalising discussion on the topic.

Women’s football clubs including Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion have followed suit switching to dark shorts. Other sports have implemented positive change within their arenas and across the world. Wimbledon relaxed the ‘all white attire’ rule last year to allow use of dark under shorts. Ireland’s women’s rugby union side have made the switch, acknowledging the benefits and Welsh Rugby have gone even further to better understand how menstrual cycles affect performance and explore links with concussion – developing a tracking App with Vodafone.

Nike, Puma and Adidas sell ‘period proof’ shorts and lower layer sportswear, while Always UK have sponsored Team GB Olympian Long Jumper Jazmin Sawyers and included her in their latest TV campaign aimed at reducing period anxiety:

 

Horse sports next to take the lead

Equestrian sports have adapted too, with British Eventing now allowing dark jodhpurs for all competition phases, having previously approved just the cross-country phase. 2024 brings similar rule changes for British Dressage, British Riding Clubs, Eventing Ireland, and the Pony Club who have approved dark seat-patched jodhpurs for competition in a recent rule update.

An Eventing Ireland spokesperson said: “As part of Eventing Ireland’s commitment to its diversity, inclusion and equality policy, at its recent meeting, the board discussed the subject of whether Eventing Ireland should follow other sporting bodies and clubs, such as British Riding Clubs, British Dressage and multiple national governing bodies in soccer, as well as national clubs, and give our athletes the choice to compete in dark-coloured jodhpurs at national and training competitions. EI asked members their opinions and “a resounding 78.5%” were in favour of the change.”

2024 rule changes in equestrian sport summarised:

  1. British Dressage – “Breeches or jodhpurs should predominately be of a solid, single colour. Dark-coloured contrast seats are permitted. Stripes or bold patterned breeches or jodhpurs are not allowed.”
  2. British Eventing – British Eventing now allows navy and black breeches and jodhpurs, as well as white, buff and fawn, in all phases and level of competition, including navy and black seats on white breeches/jodhpurs
  3. British Riding Clubs – White, cream and beige are still accepted but the addition of black and navy as permitted colours is intended to help female competitors feel more comfortable and confident to perform at their highest level while they are on their periods.

A ‘Breech’ of Tradition?

So what about racing? Should we keep pace with other sports and the needs of society in Britain? How might this affect current and future jockeys? 189 out of a total of 660 licensed British jockeys are female. Many factors may contribute to the imbalance of this figure; but if racing wants to be fully inclusive for generations to come, it would seem a simple solution to address kit issues, to remove any barrier?

Youth Sport Trust research shows that “issues around periods are the most commonly cited barrier to participation among secondary school girls, with 38% of those surveyed raising periods.” (March 2024). Could period shame be holding back pony racers and potential future jockeys?

What are the rules?

British racing’s rules state all jockeys can wear any colour breeches they wish to compete in. Different colours have been produced for charity awareness races and jockeys have worn dark pairs on the all-weather on rare occasions.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that jockeys may be:

  • 1 Hesitant to go against tradition
  • 2 Do not wish to stand out

Although not spoken about openly; period worry and leakage exists in the Weighing Room and most certainly on horseback across racing. A widespread issue or not; it is a situation that could be alleviated by providing further choice, and by male jockeys too adopting other colours, understanding and highlighting that this is not just a female problem.

A simple solution?

Leading racewear brands currently only sell white standard-weight racing breeches, superlight or waterproof options, and there is no option of female-specific fit, for racing or riding-out wear.

After consultation, various suppliers proved open to producing dark patch breeches (pictured) and limited free samples are available for jockeys of any gender to try. Anyone interested in taking up this opportunity should email info@womeninracing.co.uk to arrange.

In summary

The sport, its role-models and leaders can embrace change and move forward by sending an inclusive message to female participants. This subject is no longer ‘taboo’ and talking openly about it, especially in sport, is becoming commonplace.

Racing does not sit separately from the research cited in this feature – these figures will be representative of young girls who would consider racing as a career. Aside from welcoming new people to the sport, making our female athletes working environment easier should be a priority.

Let us know what you think

Email info@womeninracing.co.uk or get in touch with our committee directly on this link.

Women in Racing wish to thank Di Farrell-Thomas for her significant research, development and stakeholder engagement on this subject, and for pulling this article together to be shared here. 

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‘Racing Home’ secures further funding and unveils inspiring video

Women in Racing is delighted to announce receipt of further funding from the Racing Foundation for the pioneering ‘Racing Home’ Project. This funding will enable the project to continue its crucial objective in supporting employers, employees, and the self-employed who are trying to balance professional demands with familial responsibilities.

Racing Home, founded with the primary objective of supporting the workforce in horseracing, has received universal acclaim for the support it is giving to the racing community, particularly working mothers. Now, with renewed funding, the programme is poised to further expand its reach and effectiveness, benefiting both employees and employers alike.

The Racing Home Programme has consistently demonstrated its commitment to addressing the unique challenges faced by parents and carers in the sport. In offering tailored support, resources, and signposting, www.racinghome.org.uk, the programme seeks to advise and support both employers and employees wishing to thrive in the industry.

Accompanying the announcement of continuity funding, Racing Home unveils its latest video, offering a compelling insight into the future path of the project. Capturing the essence of Racing Home’s vision and aspirations, the video showcases innovative strategies aimed at helping sustain and retain people in the industry while fostering a culture of inclusivity and support within the horseracing community. Through poignant narratives and powerful visuals, the video demonstrates Racing Home’s unwavering commitment to drive positive change and enhance the well-being of all those involved in the industry.

As Racing Home embarks on its next chapter, it remains steadfast in its commitment to championing work-life balance in the horseracing community and caring for the people who are the bedrock of the racing industry. With unwavering support and dedication of so many people who have participated in the programme, Racing Home looks forward to continuing to shape a brighter, more equitable future for all involved in the sport.

For more information about the Racing Home Programme and to view the latest video, please visit www.racinghome.org.uk

Lucy Gurney, Women in Racing Chair, said: “Women in Racing is so proud of Racing Home; this video showcases just part of the programme and some of our wonderful ambassadors. We encourage racing’s employers and employees seeking more information around parenting and caring to visit www.racinghome.org.uk and also listen to the excellent podcast episodes. Thanks go to the Racing Foundation for their ongoing support and to the Simply Racing team.”

Tansy Challis, Chief Executive of the Racing Foundation, said: “Supporting and retaining working parents and carers is a vital component in ensuring a sustainable workforce for British racing. The Racing Foundation is proud to be supporting the continued development of the Racing Home programme, having contributed to the set-up, pilot, and initial phases of the project. Feedback has been extremely positive, and we look forward to seeing the impact it will have on both employees and employers through further expanding its reach.”

Meet the Committee

wir 4 years

Find out more about the WiR committee – the voluntary team who runs programmes and events designed to support women working across British horseracing.

Emma Sayer – Deputy Chair and Bursary since 2023

Alongside my voluntary role for WiR committee I work full time for the Scottish Racing academy and I am assistant trainer to my mother Dianne. Life is never dull or quiet! I have race ridden in 10 different countries across the globe and have worked in racing in another 3 countries. I loved the new experience, the variety of training methods and mostly the opportunity to travel that racing has provided and would encourage anyone to do the same.

What do you do for WiR: I have been fortunate to work on the Bursary, something I am a huge supporter of. I love that the WiR community can offer financial support to those in need in any area of personal development, growth and to develop new skills. It is a great initiative and one I would encourage any WiR member to apply for.

In order to apply for a bursary, you must be a member of WiR. You apply via the website and will be invited for interview with a number of committee members before your application is considered. Applications open in April of every year and close in August. If you have any questions regarding the bursary programme please do not hesitate to get in touch.

What are you working on at the moment? I am currently in communication with the two successful bursary applicants from 2023 to see how they are benefiting from the initiative. See below a response we have just received:

1. How did you first hear about the WiR bursary programme and what made you apply? I have been a member of WiR for a long time and followed all the great initiatives that they have going on, I have been supported through the mentoring programme in the past and everyone is so supportive. When I started looking for some additional support towards my training, another member suggested I make the application.

2. Can you explain what the application process consisted of and your personal experience throughout? The application process was straightforward. I was then invited to interview, which was a great focus for me, as this made me zone in on what I wanted to achieve and what I in return can offer back to the racing and in particular the women’s racing community.

3. What impact do you feel the bursary has had on your personal circumstance and would you encourage others to apply. The bursary has helped me to focus on my study and I really would encourage others to make the leap and see what WiR can help you to achieve.

 

Cheryl Caves – Mentoring Lead since 2023

What do you do for WiR: I have just taken on the WiR Mentoring Programme so am in the process of familiarising myself with it and getting it ready for a relaunch.

The WiR Mentoring Programme has been running for over 10 years and has been a great success. It works by partnering WiR members with other women in the racing industry who can offer them advice and help in anything from personal development to skills training and career progression.

I am currently working to contact all existing mentees and mentors to see how they think we can improve what we currently offer. I’m also hoping to expand the number of mentors we have available to our members – volunteers are always welcome! You can have a look at our latest Mentors and apply to join the programme on this webpage.

Tell us a little-known fact about yourself! Pre-children I used to teach a Salsa dance class in and around Newmarket. I also took Ballroom and Latin lessons as an adult learner, though it’s been a good few years since I last took to the dance floor!

 

Sally Lyons – Treasurer since 2022

What do you do for WiR: I am the gatekeeper to all the financials for WiR and Racing Home and I have also been involved with the Bursary process which is a hugely rewarding part of being involved with WiR: offering our members support towards their career development. Most recently I am a Lead on the Racing Home Project – Racing Home is a monumental project seeking to support working parents, women and individuals contemplating starting a family who work in the horseracing industry. Watch the latest video about the programme here.

Describe something you have been working on: Racing Home also runs a “Post-Pregnancy Rehabilitation and Support Programme – provides guidance to mothers returning to riding work post pregnancy and opportunity to work with “Specialist Rehabilitation Physiotherapists”. Each individual programme includes 6 sessions with your physio providing a tailored fitness plan, strength and conditioning support and gym work instruction. For more information, please contact dana@simplyracing.uk.

 

Grace Carter – Social Media Lead since 2023

I work for Ian Williams Racing, sit on the Diversity in Racing Steering Group and have recently completed the Racing Media Academy class of 2024.

What do you do for WiR: I manage the WiR social media accounts – posting updates on our events, latest news, and celebrations for the achievements of women within racing. Our social media platforms are an easy way of finding out information about us such as member benefits, when applications for the bursary open and the mentoring programme, as well as keeping up to date with our events. It is also a nice way to see other women’s achievements in racing and to know you have access to a support system.

 

Steph Swanney – Bursary Lead since 2024

I fell in love with horseracing when I attended an open day at the Northern Horseracing College, where I enrolled and graduated at 17. I worked for several racing yards before taking time away from racing, gaining experience in a different industry whilst completing a BSc degree. Horseracing is my passion and I soon gravitated back to the industry, this time
working for the BHA and completing the Thoroughbred Horseracing Industries MBA. My current role is a Project Manager, with a focus on equine and human welfare.

 

Blaithin Murphy – Membership Lead since 2022

Blaithin has previously held hands-on roles in thoroughbred studs and training yards whilst completing her degree in Equine Science and a masters in Business Management. Blaithin works at The Jockey Club and has graduated the trainee General Manager programme, recently being appointed General Manager of Wincanton Racecourse. Blaithin has been involved in equestrian sports all her life, but horse racing has always been at the forefront.

Share a little-known fact about yourself! I am frightened of going down escalators – no problem going up though!

 

Kim Leet – Secretary since 2023

I am the secretary to the Committee at Women in Racing and have worked as a Racing Secretary to several racehorse trainers in Newmarket, as well as for a stud and owners, so I have a wealth of experience within horse racing.

I do the admin for the committee which means helping to organise the monthly meetings and following up with action points as well as any other ad hoc requirements. Having worked in the industry for several years, I have a good understanding of the
industry and I’m keen to raise the profile of brilliant women in the sport and build upon the existing network. I work away in the background to make the WiR committee even more organised.

 

Lucy Ralph – Policy and Process Improvement since 2024

I worked as a groom before starting an office-based role for the British Horseracing Authority, who supported me through an MBA. Since then I have led projects and teams in the regulatory, charitable and commercial sectors, focusing on process improvement using technology and data. I’m currently the Governance and Integrity Manager for the British Equestrian Federation. I’m interested in anything to do with the countryside, the impact of sport on wellbeing, and animal welfare. I continue to ride when she can, and I’m especially keen on retraining racehorses for new jobs.

I use my governance experience to support WiR to continuously improve and develop to ensure it continues to be efficient and forward-thinking.

 

Lucy Gurney – Chair since 2021

What do you do for WiR: I ran the mentoring programme when I joined in 2020 and once Tallulah Lewis completed her term as Chair I took on the role. This can mean anything from tech improvements, website and social media to hosting events, developing the mentoring and bursary, working on strategy, recruiting new committee members, funding and sponsorship – you name it! It’s a varied role but so rewarding when we bring together the WiR network to make change, host events and support career development. Take a look around the website if you want to see case studies or previous event info.

Thank you’s and a note to WiR members: We are fortunate to have a brilliant committee driving the network forward and some exciting events lined up. The fast-evolving Racing Home programme is designed to support working parents to thrive and remain in the industry and details can be found here (racinghome.org.uk). The Simply Racing team deliver this with thanks to funding from the Racing Foundation and Kindred Group (Unibet). You can speak to our team at events or email us to discuss any part of Women in Racing – the bursary, mentoring, Racing Home, and how you can get involved. WiR has lots to look forward to!

We look forward to meeting you at upcoming events – don’t hesitate to get in touch directly in the meantime. You can find out more about the bursary here, or the mentoring programme or Racing Home.

First female to judge this year’s Oaks

Jane Green FRAS shares an uplifting and fascinating insight into her career journey, judging responsibilities and taking on a prestigious role at this year’s Epsom Derby meeting. Thank you Jane and best wishes from WiR!

It is always a privilege to take the proverbial ‘hot seat’ – the Judge’s chair – in horseracing but on 31 May this year it will be an enormous honour for me to judge the 2024 running of The Oaks, not only because it is the historic Classic for fillies but because it falls to me to be the first female in its 245-year-history to do so. Wow!

I could never have dreamed that one day little old Jane Green would end up in such an important role. When I was aged just five, my mother passed away leaving five children (two sets of twins and a six-month old younger sister). A few years later I was separated from my three brothers and father and with my sister was taken to live in Sussex with our grandparents. I had no confidence, no self-belief and, apparently, was incredibly shy! That is so unimaginable now! But I worked hard at school and college, believing an education would be my ‘ticket’ to a perceived ‘happiness’.

I achieved several international awards for my secretarial skills – which, truly, meant nothing at the time – and thanks to the kindness and encouragement of friends ended up working as a secretary at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London. This was followed by four years as a PA for the Manager of Flight Operations at McAlpine Aviation – an ad hoc business charter airline at Luton Airport – the perks of which were flying in fixed wing and propeller business jets and even taking the controls of a helicopter over Battersea Bridge on the Thames, at night no less! That wouldn’t happen now!

Following that excitement, I then spent sixteen years serving as senior officer on cruise ships travelling the world. It was here that the first of my two major paths in life opened up – astronomy. Sailing beneath the most amazing skies, I developed an interest in this science, studied Degree courses through the Open University and began officially presenting for the passengers. On leaving the sea, I continued with the presenting both on board and ashore and was commissioned to write a book which became a best seller. I was fortunate to participate in the first UK national theatre tour on astronomy, became a regular feature writer for the BBC Sky at Night and presented around the country, most recently for Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic team at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

So where do horses and horseracing fit in?

Horses have always been in my life, from the little girl reading Black Beauty or watching Champion the Wonder Horse, to being chastised for getting home late from school because I had chosen to wander in a field of horses instead! But for some reason the possibility of actually learning to ride was never on my radar. My involvement with horses began with gaited American Saddlebreds. In 1990 my ‘adopted’ mother/mentor – Cheryl Lutring – imported the first five-gaited American Saddlebred into this country from the USA. I thought the high-stepping mare was the most beautiful horse I had ever seen. Then I attended the World’s Championships Horse Show in Louisville, Kentucky with Cheryl and just knew I had to have one!

My purchase – a big, bold, boisterous gelding – taught me all I know about riding. Oh boy, did he? There is nothing quite like getting dumped in the sand and eating dirt, several times, for teaching you what needs to be learnt. He had an enormous ground-covering trot. At home he wouldn’t slow down. In the show ring he wouldn’t start! But eventually we sorted it all out and Cheryl invited us to join the UK’s first Display Team and I became the first person in this country to exhibit an American Saddlebred horse harnessed to a show sulky – more ‘pinch me’ moments!

Incredibly, horseracing was never in my field of view. I was a late starter! I answered an advert in the Horse & Hound for the position of Steward’s Secretary. I never sat an interview. I worked two meetings in the Stewards Room at Lingfield racecourse and was told I had the role. Crikey! Racecard? What’s a racecard? But what I did know was that Thoroughbred horses would become a large part of my life.

Fourteen very enjoyable years later they became a much larger part when I transitioned to the role of Judge – the person who watches the horses cross the finishing line, determines the winner, announces the first four horses and places all the other runners before transmitting the official result. If a head or less separates any of the first four then I announce a ‘photo finish’ and work closely with my invaluable Photo Finish Operator (PFO), scrutinising the across-the-line image to identify horses and determine places. Often just one pixel can separate two runners. In rarer cases there are no pixels at all – it’s a dead heat.

It’s a very challenging role, but I am part of a brilliant team. As well as my Photo Finish Operator – also the first female PFO for The Oaks this year – I have the support of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) Stewards who have my back.

It can be stressful. I dread making a mistake. But I try to keep focused. Admittedly, the heart pumps faster when judging in poor light in the winter; peering at black and white grainy images to split a heap of horses, or squinting in blinding summer sunshine to distinguish one light-coloured set of jockey silks from another when all appear identical! Or when experiencing a total power failure, losing all camera coverage, recording equipment, televisions and laptops just as the horses are being loaded into the stalls. On such a day, the race finally run but in dire conditions, I remember turning to my Photo Finish Operator, Sarah Stiles, rain-soaked and in semi-darkness, asking what she had recorded. She simply replied, crestfallen, “Nothing”.

The old heart beats faster still when seated in the Judge’s chair at Royal Ascot overlooking that glorious racecourse with its fabulous racehorses and many thousands of spectators. What a view! What an atmosphere! How did that shy girl from Sussex, who would never dare to dream, end up in that chair?

I honestly feel I have been incredibly lucky throughout my life. I have been in the right place at the right time and people have been so kind and supportive. I am part of a great Judges team. I especially owe an enormous debt of thanks to Di Clark, a fellow female judge, whose training ‘got me over the line’. Without her I would not be judging today.

And, finally, without doubt, my heart pounds fastest when I watch our beautiful equine athletes. It is all about the horses for me. Even after twenty years, I still have goose-bumps and my eyes still well up when I watch runners canter down to the start, so beautifully turned out and moving so freely within themselves. What a view! They are simply magnificent. It is ALWAYS an honour and a privilege to watch them. I have never lost sight of that and never will. This year’s fillies in The Oaks will doubtless have the same effect! Will I be nervous? Yes. Will I be excited? Yes. But, afterwards, I hope to be able to turn to my Team Principal, David Hicks, in the Epsom Judges Box with me, and smile, knowing that I have done justice to those beautiful fillies and to the history of this incredible 245-year-old Classic race.

Survey to explore experiences of ethnically diverse communities in British racing

All racing staff, including people from ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds working in British racing are being invited to share their views and experiences of the industry through a short feedback survey.

The survey, which can be accessed here and completed anonymously, is now open and will run until Friday 31 May 2024.

It is open to everyone working in British racing, particularly people from ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds, as well as those who might have worked with or observed the experiences of their ethnically diverse colleagues.

Commissioned by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and funded by the Racing Foundation, the survey is part of a wider research project to explore the opportunities and barriers that might exist for those from ethnically diverse backgrounds looking to fulfil their potential within racing.

The research is being managed by Plan4Sport and Inside Inclusion – both experts in the diversity and inclusion in sport space – and the feedback provided through the survey will help identify areas for improvement and support ongoing efforts to ensure racing is an enjoyable, safe and supportive environment for all.

The evidence gathered will also inform specific recommendations to help shape the sport’s long-term planning around the recruitment, retention, development and wellbeing of racing’s workforce, which is being led by the Horseracing Industry People Board.

Alongside the survey, racing industry employees are also being invited to discuss their views and experiences with the research team through interviews and focus groups. These will take place in the coming months and provide an opportunity to explore the feedback in greater detail.

Anyone interested in taking part in an interview, joining a focus group or finding out more about the research into the experiences of ethnically diverse communities is encouraged to contact the research team directly via email: horseracingreview@plan4sport.co.uk.

BHA Chief Executive, Julie Harrington, said:

“Racing is a global sport and we are proud that talented individuals from around the world and from numerous diverse backgrounds here in Britain have, for many years, chosen to pursue a career in racing.

“While we have long sought to ensure that racing provides a safe and welcoming space for all, we are aware that we should never be complacent about this issue and so I would encourage people to share their experiences so that we can take steps to give everyone the chance to fulfil their potential.”

Tansy Challis, Chief Executive of the Racing Foundation, said:

“At the Racing Foundation, we recognise the importance of improving our sport’s diversity and inclusion of people and communities from all backgrounds. Only by listening and learning from people’s lived experience can we take appropriate action to create sustainable change in the industry.

“It is crucial that we understand the challenges and barriers being faced and also identify good practice. We are delighted to support the survey and urge anyone working in racing to participate.”

Chair of the Horseracing Industry People Board, Neil Hayward, said:

“The Horseracing Industry People Board is currently engaging with individuals and organisations from across racing and breeding to gather evidence and obtain feedback that will help inform the development of a long-term people strategy.

“This survey is an important part of this process and will help advance our understanding of the opportunities that exist within the sport for people from ethnically diverse backgrounds, but also where they may be barriers to involvement and the need for further support”.

Member Story for Endometriosis Action Month

Our second Member Story as part of Endometriosis Action Month shows the power of awareness and communication in diagnosing the condition. Read on to understand how stage four endometriosis can affect day-to-day life; work, exercise and even sleep.

If you missed our first Member Story you can catch up here.

Member Story

My endometriosis story starts like that of so many others – fainting from pain in school, being put on birth control as a teenager, and being sick from pain in the toilets at work. I had numerous trips to the GP. And numerous times I was told by doctors that I was just unlucky and cursed with heavy and painful periods. As the years went on, I was increasingly having pain outside of my period too. I was unable to lie in bed on my side as it felt like my ovary was going to burst. I was in my 30’s and in my local park running when I realised how bad it had become. I felt as though a burning hot knife was slicing me from ovary to ovary, my last worry being about what would happen to my dog who was with me as I hit the floor and blacked out. I stopped running and exercising. I was filled with fear about how it would affect my physical and mental health and if the pain got so bad that I couldn’t ride my horse any more.
Over a drink one evening, one of my closest friends revealed to me she had been diagnosed with suspected endometriosis. She was convinced I had it too. As she listed off the symptoms, the pieces of the puzzle came together. I went back to the doctors forearmed to push for a diagnosis and was referred to a gynaecologist. The waiting list for an initial consultation was a year. The thought of not being able to exercise and be healthy for 12 months concerned me. And I was worried about being fobbed off by a general gynecologist rather than an endometriosis specialist as I had read was so often the case. I decided I would pay to have a private consultation, which I had within the week.
“From your symptoms, I am almost certain you have endometriosis. It’s not normal, it’s not just ‘bad periods’ and you don’t have to live like this,” I was told. I was in floods of tears hearing these words in the consulting room as it was the first time in over 20 years I felt heard by a medical professional. I finally had an answer for the pain I’d been living with for so long.
Unfortunately, endometriosis often does not appear on scans and therefore it’s a real battle for official diagnosis which can only be done through laparoscopy (keyhole surgery). More often than not, you have a diagnosis and excision (removal of endometriosis) simultaneously. It also means diagnosis alone is expensive for the NHS and this, alongside a lack of specialists and the woeful lack of funding for women’s health issues, makes the waiting list for surgery ridiculously long.
The consultant put me on his NHS list for the operation and I was told that, despite it affecting nearly every area of my life, the waiting list was six years. Endometriosis grows with every period, so that was another six years of the disease growing inside me. If I was already unable to exercise, being sick and fainting with pain, how badly would the disease progress in a further six years? Would I be able to ride my horse? Work? Walk down the road? Even get out of bed?
I was hugely privileged to be able to borrow the £5,000 needed to have surgery privately within weeks with the endometriosis specialist. Despite it not showing up at all on ultrasound scans, my laparoscopy showed I had stage IV endometriosis which is the most severe category. I had scar tissue over both ovaries, sticking one completely flat. My bowel was covered with scar tissue to the extent that one half had been ‘strung up’ and suspended and the other half was stuck to itself. The disease had spread to numerous other organs. My surgeon told me afterwards that if I had left it any longer to have my endometriosis removed, I would have had to have had my bowel re-sectioned and a possible colostomy and a stoma fitted. If I had to wait six years sitting on the NHS waiting list, this would have been the reality and would have changed the trajectory of my life.
I feel an incredible amount of guilt and shame around having my surgery privately. I also have a very supportive employer and a sick pay package which meant I didn’t have to go into debt while taking time off to recover from the surgery. I struggle to read others’ accounts who aren’t in the position to self-fund private surgery without crying tears of frustration at the injustice of it all. Some women are completely debilitated by this disease. Many are unable to work, lose their independence, and can’t get out of bed. And yet because of their personal financial situation and lack of funding in this area, they are forced to wait for years and years for any hope of relief. Endometriosis is suspected to affect one in 10 women and this lack of provision for sufferers is completely unacceptable.
I had to wait 22 years and spend thousands of pounds to be able to live a life not overshadowed by pain. No woman should be in that position. My hope is that an increase in education, such as the brilliant work Women in Racing are doing by raising awareness this month, will give women who suspect they have endometriosis the confidence to advocate for their health with their GP.
Find out more

March is #EndometriosisActionMonth2024 and this year’s theme is ‘Could it be endometriosis?’ Endometriosis UK is raising vital awareness of #endometriosis this month and beyond. 

Find out more at: www.endometriosis-uk.org

Member Stories for Endometriosis Action Month

March is Endometriosis Action Month – find out more below and how you can support friends and colleagues. Read our Member story for an honest insight into living and working with Endometriosis. A big thank you to our members for sharing their experiences with us. The resources at the end show you how you can take action in your workplace to help others.

What is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis impacts 1 in 10 women and those assigned female at birth in the UK, yet so many are still unaware of the condition and its impact.⁠

Getting a diagnosis for endometriosis now takes almost a year longer than before the pandemic, according to new research published in our new diagnosis report for 2024.

For Endometriosis Action Month this year, charity Endometriosis UK is focusing on raising vital awareness of the common symptoms. Improving general public awareness and understanding of the condition ensures that those experiencing symptoms, their friends and family and their healthcare team know to ask ‘could it be endometriosis?’, leading to more prompt diagnosis and access to care.⁠

Read: “Dismissed, ignored and belittled” The long road to endometriosis diagnosis in the UK

Join us and help us demand change for the 1 in 10 women and those assigned female at birth with endometriosis in the UK.

Find out more via Endometriosis Action Month here

Member Story

I fear the diagnostic process for endometriosis.

It’s not a dramatic fear, full of shouting or crying. It’s suddenly finding myself holding the milk carton and having to re-boil the kettle, because I’m not sure how long I was staring into space.

I fear that the nurse I see will make me feel like I’m wasting their time. I know that for them it’s no big deal, they see hundreds of people like me each day complaining about pain. I know I am not an emergency.

As a child I started fainting from heavy periods. They would come out of nowhere and ruin my uniform. I had a covert deal with a dinner lady that she’d throw me a chocolate bar on my way between classes if I looked pale. I was put onto the contraceptive pill.

I went to university and things got worse. I bled every day for over a year while taking daily contraception. I remember being told by a university doctor, as I sat exhausted and depleted in front of him, “Women get periods. It happens”. I was so embarrassed.

Once I started work the pain became the main issue. Sitting at a desk for 8 hours every day was hard and I’d have to move to the floor of the office loos and close my eyes during breaks. I had my first cervical cautery.

I started working from home two days per week. I went to see a GP again and was put on hormone injections. Things went downhill quickly. I couldn’t eat without severe discomfort. I lost weight and ended up 42kg (6 stone 6lbs). I had another cervical cautery.

I saw a female GP. She took me off the injections and put in a coil. The bleeding became manageable and I started to put weight back on, but my abdominal symptoms got worse. I got pain and bloating outside of my monthly cycle that would bend me double and make me look heavily pregnant.

It seemed triggered by anything – stress, going to the toilet, having sex, eating meat.

In early 2023 I was unable to walk properly for 48hrs and was hospitalised with suspected appendicitis. I was released with no treatment after blood tests ruled it out. Two weeks later they decided it was a womb infection and put me on anti-biotics.

In October 2023 I vomited bright red blood and passed out in our bathroom. I was found, hospitalised again, diagnosed off symptoms with stomach ulcers, and sent home with omeprazole.

A month later in November 2023 I started bleeding in my stool, turning the toilet bowl bright red. I was mortified, but eventually admitted what was happening to my partner who took me to A&E. I was referred for a flexible sigmoidoscopy by a doctor at the ambulatory unit. They found no polyps in my lower bowel and I was sent home.

It has been 14 years of symptoms.

I presented this letter to my GP and she referred me to an endometriosis clinic on 9th February 2024. She suspects I have endometriosis in my womb, bowel, and possibly stomach.

The referral letter asks you to chase if you haven’t heard in two weeks. I waited for six. Today I rang them to find out when I might be able to be seen and was told there is a 9 month wait for an appointment, and when I asked what my next step could be I was told “we can’t help you” and they hung up.

You may know people like me without realising it. During the timeline outlined above I passed A-levels, got a law degree, gained four promotions to senior level, and got an MBA. I have a successful career, social life, am physically fit, 30 years old and engaged to be married. I have peace, love, and I am often very happy.

Only my fiancé knows the details of my health. The only work colleague ever to know something wasn’t right was my first ever manager, who let me work from home two days per week so I didn’t have to sit on the bathroom floor in breaks.

I am not here to waste anyone’s time. I know that women can lead successful lives while fighting this battle. I just don’t believe that they should have to.

Resources

To find out more visit Endometriosis UK

Are you an employer?

Find out more about the Endometriosis Friendly Employer Scheme

Read our second Member Story here

International Women’s Day Webinar Recording

To mark International Women’s Day, join us as we celebrate women who are pushing boundaries in their area of the racing industry. This Zoom Webinar will feature a panel discussion; we will hear from our brilliant panellists about progress being made and their views on opportunities for change. The interactive, thought-provoking session will provide opportunities to ask questions of the panellists individually or as a whole.

Horse Racing presenter, reporter and producer Vanessa Ryle will host the webinar and our brilliant panellists include:

N.B. Saffie Osborne originally advertised had a diary clash with a ride in Bahrain

Charlotte Jones

Jump Jockey Charlotte joins us to provide an insight into her career and perspective. Charlotte has ridden over 68 winners in her career to-date, based at the Cumbrian yard of Jimmy Moffatt. Charlotte had no racing background and has a degree in Equine Science. One of Charlotte’s goals is to support and inspire girls to aim for a career in horseracing.

Dr Eleanor Boden PHD PGCE SHEA

Eleanor is responsible for Managing the Scottish Racing Academy and its education provision which includes recruitment strategies and employer engagement. Previously, Eleanor was a Senior Lecturer at Myerscough College where she earned the Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy status as well as multiple nominations for her outstanding teaching delivery. Eleanor completed her PhD at Durham University which involved researching the experiences of females from different education streams and employment in the horseracing industry. During Eleanor’s professional and academic career, she has consistently focused on improving the awareness and understanding of equality, safeguarding and inclusion, to ensure a safe space for participation and the opportunity for all to thrive. In 2021 Eleanor was appointed as the Equality, Wellbeing and Safeguarding Director of horse Scotland and in 2023 Eleanor became Chair of British horseracing’s Diversity in Racing Steering Group. Eleanor’s PhD research “Where did all the girls go?” was published in December 2023 and incorporated into the British Horseracing Authority’s safeguarding strategy.

Eileen Harte

Hailing from Dublin, the bloodstock industry was not a natural progression but Eileen was struck by the racing bug at an early age. Her passion for horses continued throughout her life and she eventually turned this into a successful career with her husband when they set up Keith Harte Bloodstock Ltd. Now over 18 years in the industry they are settling into their newly acquired farm in North Essex.

Breeding and selling thoroughbreds fill their days but the young people coming into the industry is something Eileen and her team concentrate on. This focus is continued through her volunteer work with Racing Welfare and her role as a Judge on the panel for the Thoroughbred Industry Employers Awards. Developing her skills around this focus is a priority and Eileen was recently awarded a Bronze Certificate In Transformational Coaching and is going into her final years training to be an Individual Psychotherapist.

Dr Kate Clayton-Hathway

Dr Kate Clayton-Hathway, is an Associate Researcher with the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice at Oxford Brookes Business School. She led both the 2017 diversity project for the horseracing industry and the 2020 Racing Home study. Kate’s research specialism is in gender equality within organisational structures, and she is particularly interested in promoting progressive institutional change. She is also an activist, and supports a women’s educational charity in Oxfordshire.

The webinar is also an opportunity to hear from WiR about the programmes that are free as part of WiR membership that help women across the industry to flourish and succeed.

New Racing Home podcast episodes released

Racing Home podcast has 2 new episodes out with the latest being some big names, you may well have heard of them both.

The first of these guests is Julie Harrington: CEO of the British Horseracing Authority, as well as a mother to her daughter Sarah.

Julie became a mum very young – she was still at school in fact – but built her career regardless, making her way through the brewing industry, horseracing and football at the FA before becoming the CEO of British Cycling, from where she joined the BHA in 2021.

Naomi also had the good fortune to chat to Julie about the trajectory of her career previously and there’s a link here if you want to watch that one, but here we discussed a whole range of topics to do with work and family.

The second of these guests is Nick Luck: one of the nation’s most recognisable racing broadcasters. Having been a mainstay of Channel 4 Racing previously, he’s also a stalwart of Racing TVNBC’s Breeder’s Cup coverage in the US and a nine-time winner of the Horserace Writers and Photographers Broadcaster of the Year Award.

Nick has a wonderfully talented wife – classical singer, Laura – and they have 3 daughters aged 13, 9 and 5. Their youngest, Xanthe, has cystic fibrosis.

Nick is a very busy father who travels a lot, and with a child with a chronic illness there are some additional challenges in their family too, all of which provided a fascinating conversation.

Find the episode wherever you get your podcasts or listen here to Julie Harrington and here to Nick Luck

Find out more about Racing Home here.

 

BHA announce updated Human Welfare Strategy and Action Plan

about us

This week the BHA announced its updated Human Welfare Strategy and action plan to make racing a safer, more supportive and more respectful environment for all. Women in Racing would like to acknowledge and support the research published by Dr Eleanor Boden PHD, press release from the BHA and the accompanying safeguarding strategy.

We know there are experiences of our members and the women we represent within this research, as well as those outside of our membership, and feel a responsibility to them to ensure that this behaviour is treated with zero tolerance in racing and of course in wider society, and that racing, as a collective is accountable in its needs to drive culture change, to prevent this happening to our current and future workforce.

While we know this is also a wider issue in society, we are determined to support and promote a positive change to the sport’s culture for the current workforce and generations to come.

 

If you need help, support or witness or experience any unacceptable behaviour, please report it to respect@britishhorseracing.com, or call the BHA’s confidential reporting service, RaceWISE on 08000 852 580.

If you need any additional support Racing Welfare’s helpline is available 24/7 on 0800 6300443.

If you are struggling with juggling a career in racing with parenthood Racing Home¹ is a portal that provides information on your rights and entitlements and resources for assistance.

 

 

¹Women in Racing is aware of the struggles of parenthood within the horseracing industry’s workforce. The Racing Home portal launched in July 2022, provides online industry focused information and education around parenthood and parental rights for both the employee and employer. Racing Home is for all parents, working anywhere in the sport and can be accessed at: https://racinghome.org.uk