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

May 15, 2024 | WiR Features

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 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 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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