Monday 26 August 2019

Showjumping dropout women may be falling at hurdle of self-doubt

Staying in the saddle: Kathryn Knox (23) from Co Antrim, with horse Seamus. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM
Staying in the saddle: Kathryn Knox (23) from Co Antrim, with horse Seamus. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM
Sorcha O'Connor

Sorcha O'Connor

This week marks the centenary of women show-jumping at the Dublin Horse Show - but statistics show women and girls are still dropping out of the sport at a worrying rate.

Male and female competitors are evenly split when they are starting out aged 10-12.

But by the time riders are competing in the higher levels of the sport, female participation has dropped to as low as 18pc.

Fiona Sheridan, the equestrian manager of the RDS, said entries to the horse show between 2008 and 2019 revealed that as girls grow older, fewer of them stick with show-jumping.

And they are not making a livelihood from the sport as much as male counterparts.

"In the pony classes, the youngest classes we have in Dublin for 10-12 year-olds, we see it is a 50/50 divide," Ms Sheridan told the Irish Independent.

"As they get into the '148s' - 14-16-year-old riders - it drops ever so slightly but close to 50/50, at 47pc.

"When you go to the Young Riders you see that figure drop down into the mid-30s. That is a significant drop.

Lizzie Myers (3), from Limerick, on Ruby. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Lizzie Myers (3), from Limerick, on Ruby. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Joe McNamara, from Co Galway, washes Real Steel. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM

"Where are these girls? They competed all the way along with the boys and yet seem to drop off as the fences get higher and you have to get more business-like.

"Looking at six-year-old horses, the riders producing them are trying to make a livelihood, to make horses to compete at the highest level.

"And it drops right off there to 18pc of riders in those classes being female - so females are not making a livelihood from the sport as much as males."

This year, 25pc of the horse show competitors are female.

A panel discussion including Di Lampard, team manager of Great Britain, Irish rising star Susan Fitzpatrick and Ms Sheridan suggested self-doubt may play a part in women's decisions to call it a day.

It was also suggested they may not have the same business acumen as men, and they are faced with choices like rearing a family.

Ms Fitzpatrick (20), from Co Kilkenny, has been on two Nations Cup teams for Ireland this year - one of two women who made the cut in a decade.

"It was 10 years since Nicola Fitzgibbon won the Aga Khan here on a team," she said.

"I suppose I kept at it when the going got tough. I have a good team around me and my parents have been great."

Meanwhile, Kerry Finlay (37), an amateur from Killinshy, Co Down, competes at the show later today. She is someone who returned to the saddle in later years.

"I went to university and took some time away from it. When I started working, I got back into it again," she said.

Irish Independent

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