Irish jockeys have lent a helping hand in the development of a groundbreaking mental health app.
Ruby Walsh, the Irish jump racing legend, showed no quarter to his opponents during his career, but now that he’s retired, he’s overseen the launch of a pioneering program that aids jockeys dealing with mental health concerns.
The chairman of the Irish Injured Jockeys Fund (IIJF), the 42-year-old 12-time Irish champion jockey, believes it’s not “a cure” but “a huge start to encourage the proper behaviors.”
Leafyard, a free mental health app for professional and amateur riders in Ireland, offers tools, activities, and assistance to help with a variety of mental health issues.
It was created by the IIJF with the help of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, the sport’s regulating body (IHRB).
The app was created in response to worrying findings in a study commissioned by the IHRB in 2019/20 into mental health issues among jockeys, which generated substantial results when compared to other sports.
Injured jockeys were 46 times more likely than non-injured riders to satisfy the criteria for depression, and they reported higher levels of discontent, which is linked to sadness and anxiety.
Burnout, work unhappiness, imminent retirement, and dieting in the battle to lose weight have all been mentioned as reasons influencing their mental well-being over the years.
Walsh, who endured a slew of injuries over his career, including having his spleen removed, said the findings were not surprising.
“I was unhappy, not surprised,” he told AFP in an interview. “I know how difficult a sport it is.”
“I don’t live under a rock; I read the news and am aware of how serious mental health issues are in our society.
“Sport is a reflection of society in general. This is a key step in promoting positive behaviors.” Society, too, played a part in determining the best way to assist jockeys.
Walsh, the all-time winning jockey at jump racing’s pinnacle, the Cheltenham Festival, with 59 wins, admits he preferred talking about his difficulties while riding.
“I’m 42, and I’m probably from a previous generation, but everyone’s history and circumstances are different,” he explained.
“Whether it was my parents, wife, or friends, I always felt like I had someone to talk to.
“Fortunately, I had a number of people with whom I could discuss my thoughts and opinions, as well as seek advice.
“I’ve always believed that talking it out and getting things off your chest was the best way to get things sorted out.”
This did not apply to the jockeys’ locker room.
“My coworkers and I were pals. The Washington Newsday Brief News is a daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.