In this week’s ‘The Turf’ column, Robin Oakley bemoans the lack of female jockeys in horse racing. This, he claims, is a result of the sport's lack of opportunities for women:
'I have banged on for years about the lack of opportunities for women jockeys in Britain. Some horses go even better for a girl and the good women jockeys like Hayley [Turner] … are as good as the boys. The problem is that few get the chance to become that good because they are denied enough rides by owners and trainers. You have to go 67 places down the championship list to find Hayley as the leading woman rider.
The crowds and the punters are happy with women jockeys — look at the numbers who turn up to Carlisle for their annual women-riders-only meeting — but the only girls who get a fair crack of the whip, so to speak, are those who have a trainer for a father, such as Amy Ryan, the champion apprentice of 2012.'
It’s certainly a shame that racing has this problem. But it’s even stranger when you consider the fact that in almost every other equestrian sport, women and men compete against one another on an equal playing field, and in the same competitions. Last weekend, both sexes competed in the Longines Global World Tour showjumping event on Horseguards Parade (in which first, second and third positions were taken by men, but fourth, fifth and sixth by women). And as I type, the World Equestrian Games are going on in Normandy. Again, almost every discipline is mixed, and the top ranked riders are of both sexes.
Of course the physical strength and stamina needed to be a professional jockey could be the impediment. But as Hayley Turner has put it before, 'the horses are the ones running around'. Either way, almost all equine sports are physically demanding, and polo, which is arguably one of the most demanding, is played by both men and women. In this month’s Polo Times magazine (yes – niche, I know), Nina Clarkin, currently the best-rated female player in the world, commented:
‘I love the uniqueness of being rated in the same context as men and being able to compete together on a level playing field, as polo is one of the few sports where this is possible.’
I would never argue that any sport should be forced to include women – or men, for that matter. If a person isn’t good enough to compete, then that’s one thing. But if women are good enough to compete against men, then I don’t see why they shouldn’t be given the opportunity to do so. Perhaps racing should set an example to other sports, and give women a decent chance.