A new mental health app for all professional and amateur jockeys has been launched in Ireland that will provide tools, activities, and support to help with any general mental health concerns.

The Leafyard app was piloted among jockeys this summer, following research commissioned by the Irish Horserace Regulatory Board in 2019 / 2020 into the prevalence of mental health difficulties among jockeys. It revealed that there was a higher prevalence of concern compared to other sports.

Injured jockeys were 46 times more likely to meet the criteria for depression than non-injured jockeys and reported higher levels of dissatisfaction associated with meeting the criteria for distress and generalised anxiety.

This prompted Irish Injured Jockeys, a registered charity established by leading jockeys in 2014 to work with the IHRB to find a solution.

Former champion jockey and IIJ Chairman, Ruby Walsh collaborated with IHRB Chief Medical Officer Dr Jennifer Pugh and Sport Psychology Consultant Dr Cíara Losty to implement the Leafyard mental health app when they identified a practical, yet immediate mental health solution was required which could fill the gaps between professional intervention and the existing support systems already in place.

Survey

“I suppose I wasn’t shocked when I saw the results of the survey the Irish Horse Racing Regulatory Board commissioned,” said Walsh.

“I have been around in the racing world long enough to see the highs and the lows, so whilst it didn’t shock me, it did upset me.”

“After consultation with Dr Pugh and Cíara Losty, Irish Injured Jockeys were happy to fund the Leafyard app, which I think is an innovative, action-driven, practical solution to support everyone in the weigh room.”

“When Ruby tabled a radical new mental health solution, the Irish Injured Jockeys Fund in conjunction with the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board were quick to respond,” said Pugh.

“In the first 24 hours we recorded an amazing 24 per cent uptake – we’ve never seen a reaction like this before or anticipated such success and 88 per cent of jockeys who registered continue to use the Leafyard app.”

Lewis King was a PhD Student at Irish Racing and took charge of completing the survey.

Strategies

“People often don’t pursue these things because they don’t feel the problem is big enough or it may not be helpful to them, but this is where Leafyard comes in to give you science-backed, solid strategies to help you navigate the unpredictable, uncontrollable, and often uncertain nature of a career as a jockey,” he said.

“Leafyard is designed for those days when things get on top of us, when we feel overwhelmed when it feels like one bad race is going to define us forever – when actually if we know how, we can change our thinking, and learn to manage our emotions, so that they work for us, rather than against us,” said Losty, a Sports Psychologist with the Sport Ireland Institute and Horse racing Ireland who leads the MSc Course in Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology at WIT.

“I see it sort of like a support system to guide each jockey through what can be a really tough business. I can certainly see the positive effect it’s having in real-time, helping the jockeys order their life better, deal with setbacks and to be more positive about some of life’s challenges. At the end of the day, they’re human first, jockey second.”

“Everyone thinks mental wellbeing affects only them – it’s just their industry, their job, their team or family. But it’s all of us. We can all benefit from learning to manage our mental fitness.”

Following the success of the pilot initiative within the jockey community, equuip (Horse Racing Ireland’s education and training division) is now expanding its availability with a group of trainers, part of a long-term plan to support and promote positive mental health throughout the entire racing and breeding industry.

“My colleagues in equuip also have research which shows our wider racing community and particular racehorse trainers have a prevalence of mental health difficulties and just like the jockeys we want to support them,” said Carol Nolan, HRI Director of People and Industry Education.

“Leafyard is a powerful addition to our suite of support tools. We are excited to launch the pilot programme among the trainers and we are hoping for a similar uptake. If that happens, we know we are offering an immediate, meaningful solution.”

 

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