Monday 21 October 2019

Study aims to examine trainer burnout level

Stock photo: AFP/Getty Images
Stock photo: AFP/Getty Images

Daragh Ó Conchúir

One of the researchers of a study looking into the risk factors and stressors that can impact the mental health of racehorse trainers is calling on as many trainers as possible to participate, so that better understanding of mental health amongst this under-researched population can be developed.

A questionnaire will be emailed to all licensed trainers in Ireland by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Body shortly, which the trainers can fill in anonymously.

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Lewis King is a PhD researcher at Waterford Institute of Technology who has been exploring the mental health of jockeys in collaboration with the IHRB, after a review carried out by WIT's Dr Sarah Jane Cullen and Dr Ciara Losty indicated over half of the jockeys participating met the criteria for at least one mental health disorder.

It became clear that trainers should be surveyed as well, and the IHRB was anxious to build a body of work upon which provision of care, advice and back-up could be based.

This study is being carried out by King, Cullen and Losty, along with Katie McKeon (WIT MSc student), Dr Giles Warrington (University of Limerick), Dr Jennifer Pugh (senior IHRB medical officer) and Dr Adrian McGoldrick (former senior IHRB medical officer).

"The study will examine mental health conditions such as depression, generalised anxiety and psychological distress and their associations with specific risk factors including burnout, career satisfaction, social support, alcohol use and workload," explains King.

"We were looking at the literature, both academically and in the media mainstream, and basically found that there really wasn't that much done with regards to the well-being of trainers, which is surprising given how important they are to the industry, not just in terms of the horses they look after, but they are also responsible for the careers and financial earnings of the people they employ.

"Recent research in the UK interviewed trainers and identified a variety of occupational stressors that trainers experience, including the pressure of placing the horses in the right races, keeping the horse healthy, having the owner's financial hopes and dreams in their hands and dealing with staff issues.

"Trainers are renowned for being these tough, stiff-upper-lipped figures. But that doesn't mean they are immune to mental illness. It is important we explore the overall well-being of trainers, with the goal really being that whatever we find from the data, we can tailor specific report programmes, or future research programmes for them, to provide them with the support they need.

"We can't really do much if we don't know what's going on. We know trainers are under vast amounts of pressure. We know lots of them will deal with significant financial difficulties.

"You only have to look at what happened with Sheila Lavery losing Lady Kaya. You wait a lifetime to get a horse like her and then tragically she dies. Those triggers and those events can have a great impact on an individual's well-being."

King notes that helping address problems will make the working environment a better place, not just for the trainers but for staff and horses as well.

"One of the risk factors we are looking at is burnout. We know trainers work long, long hours. There was a study done in Australia that found that 98 or 99 per cent of them are working seven days a week.

"I was at a trainer's yard a few weeks back and asked if they had any days off last year, and they just laughed as if to say, 'What a silly question'.

Jennifer Pugh is the senior medical doctor to the industry and emphasised the importance of a large sample of trainers to ensure that the findings can have real value.

"It is a fantastic and a unique piece of research that will help inform the industry of the well-being of one of its most important contributors" says Pugh. "While we know trainers are extremely busy people, we are hoping they can take 20 minutes out of their day to complete the questionnaire."

For King, this is key.

"We are doing this to help the trainers. We are not just doing this to get a good, nice research project out of it. What is fantastic with the research we are doing in Ireland, not just with my own work but all of the research that has gone on before I was here, is that it is really applied to help the stakeholders. And that is what we aim to do."

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