Waterford student leads first study examining racehorse trainer mental health in Ireland

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Lewis King is a PhD student at Waterford Institute of Technology

Lewis King is a PhD student at Waterford Institute of Technology

The first study of its kind in Ireland and one of very few to explore racehorse trainer mental health globally obtained data from 124, or almost 30%, of racehorse trainers in Ireland.

The study, funded by Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board’s (IHRB), was conducted by Lewis King, a PhD student in Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), and is published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science.

The study suggests that prevalence of common mental disorder (CMD) symptoms may be greater among racehorse trainers than other rural occupations such as farming. Prevalence rates of depression (41%), adverse alcohol use (38%), distress (26%) and anxiety (18%) were observed.

The study also explored potential risk factors for CMD prevalence. Findings indicated that career dissatisfaction, lower levels of social support and financial difficulties increased the likelihood of meeting the threshold for depression, distress and anxiety.

Racehorse trainers play an important role within the racing industry, however the occupation is not without its difficulties. Trainers are under pressure from owners to ensure horses perform at a high standard. They are also required to manage staff and take responsibility for each horse’s welfare in their respective yards.

In Ireland, racing is extremely competitive, therefore accurately placing horses in the right races is important in an attempt to maximise prize money income. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, prize money has reduced significantly placing further pressure on racehorse trainers.

Lewis King leads the project and he spoke about the recently published findings: “The work hopefully raises awareness of the challenges that racehorse trainers face, and highlights that support strategies and programmes are needed.

"The risk factors we identified may improve early identification of CMDs which can facilitate early diagnosis or signposting to mental health support services.

"We hope that this research encourages other organisations to explore racehorse trainer mental health within their specific jurisdictions.

"Future research studies should consider other occupational stressors and their influence on CMD prevalence, and moving beyond symptom prevalence, to more global aspects of mental health such as protective factors, stigma and identity," he added.

Alongside Lewis King the research team included Dr Sarah Jane Cullen (WIT), Dr Siobhan O’Connor (DCU), Dr Adrian McGoldrick (IHRB), Dr Jennifer Pugh (IHRB), Dr Giles Warrington (University of Limerick) and Dr Ciara Losty (WIT).