The Irish Injured Jockeys (IIJ) with the support of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) have today rolled-out Leafyard, a mental health app for all professional and amateur jockeys which provides 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 IHRB in 2019 / 2020 into the prevalence of mental health difficulties among jockeys which produced significant results 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.
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.
Ruby Walsh, former champion jockey and Chairman of the Irish Injured Jockeys, said: “I suppose I wasn’t shocked when I saw the results of the survey the Irish Horse Racing Regulatory Board commissioned. 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.”
Dr Jennifer Pugh, Senior Medical Officer with the IHRB, commented: “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. In the first 24 hours we recorded an amazing 24% uptake – we’ve never seen a reaction like this before or anticipated such success and 88% of jockeys who registered continue to use the Leafyard app.”
Lewis King, PhD Student at Irish Racing who conducted the mental health survey, commented: “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.”
Cíara Losty, Sport Psychology Consultant, Jockey Pathway, 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.
“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 initiative within the jockey community, equuip (Horse Racing Ireland’s education and training division) are keen to offer this solution to the wider racing community. This week, they launch their own Leafyard pilot 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.
Carol Nolan, HRI Director of People and Industry Education, commented: “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. 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”.