National Jockeys Trust: rebuilding lives

Paul Innes featured image

The National Jockeys Trust is a public charitable trust which provides funds and other benefits for the relief of financial difficulties for jockeys who have suffered from career-threatening illness or injury. 

Since its establishment nearly fifteen years ago, the trust has helped over three hundred jockeys with equipment and resources to assist them during and after their recovery. Chairman Paul Innes discusses the formation of the trust in response to a growing need for national jockey support, the dangers prevalent in the horse-riding industry, and the trust’s plans to provide an even greater level of support for ill and injured jockeys in the future.

Benefitting Australian jockeys

The National Jockeys Trust was established by the Australian Jockeys Association (AJA) in 2004 to provide support services to jockeys who have been permanently injured, disabled, or are suffering from illness, and the families of those who have lost their lives.

Paul Innes’ connection with the AJA began in 1998, when he was appointed Secretary of the New South Wales Jockeys Association, in charge of improving welfare and conditions, maintaining the books of account and conducting regular meetings of the Executive.

The AJA was established in 2002, as it became clear that state associations were unable to provide the level of services needed for jockeys across the country. It was decided that a national body should be set up to provide adequate benefits for riders.

“One of the catalysts for the establishment of a national body was the significant increase in the cost of insurance for jockeys,” Mr Innes explains. “Around about 2001, the cost of Public Liability Insurance increased significantly for jockeys.”

This increase was enough to force many jockeys who couldn’t afford the cost out of the industry. This loss of talent was particularly high in rural areas, with a large amount of riders unable to meet the increased demands.

One of the key drivers of the formation of the AJA was the desire to put together a national policy on insurance, a goal which was quickly achieved in conjunction with one of Australia’s biggest insurance brokers.

“We established a national policy whereby jockeys were covered, not just for Public Liability Insurance, but also Personal Accident, and subsequent to that we now have in place such policies that jockeys don’t even need to pay directly for those costs.”

These policies see claims paid for through an agreement within the industry that 1% of all prize money is used to fund insurance costs on behalf of the riders. Without this agreement, the industry would continue to lose riders who cannot afford to continue.

“When we established the [AJA],” Mr Innes says, “we realised that there weren’t proper support services, particularly financial services, for jockeys who might have been seriously injured, in the industry.”

The general feeling was that the industry did not provide enough support to members of the AJA and jockeys in general, and that the body should take on the responsibility of establishing a trust that would rectify this problem.

“In certain circumstances, prior to the trust being established, high-profile riders might have been provided with significant assistance through large fundraising functions, whereas a country jockey, a little known jockey, there might have been a raffle at the local pub.”

The consensus within the AJA was that this level of disparity within the industry was unsustainable. The only way to balance the scales was to establish a national trust that would make sure all jockeys were treated equally. The answer was the National Jockeys Trust.

Mr Innes holds the position of Chief Executive at the AJA. He was instrumental in helping found the National Jockeys Trust in 2004, and was appointed inaugural Chairman of the trust. He has held both these roles ever since.

Invaluable support to ill and injured jockeys

“Being a jockey is the most dangerous occupation in this country, according to the Menzies Institute. There are approximately 830 professional jockeys in Australia, and somewhere between 30-35% will have at least one injury each year that will stop them from riding.”

The range of injuries suffered by riders every year is wide, with this 30-35% being unable to ride for anywhere between a few days and several months. One or two of these riders will suffer permanent disabilities each year.

“Tragically, we will also on a yearly basis probably average at least one death. So it’s a very dangerous industry. We have built memorials at Randwick in Sydney and Caulfield in Melbourne to those riders who have lost their lives.”

These memorials consist of the bronze figure of an anonymous jockey, and contain the names of more than 880 riders who have lost their lives over the years. The statue is based on famous Australian jockey Hughie Cairns, who was killed at Moonee Valley in 1929.

Though not particularly common, many of the more significant injuries are suffered when a rider is thrown off the horse during a race, which can result in spinal damage, quadriplegia, paraplegia, or in the very worst cases, death.

“Fortunately,” Mr Innes says, “even with falls, on most occasions jockeys are able to get up and walk away. But the dangers are there on a daily basis for jockeys, and both they and their families are more than conscious of that.”

A key part of the trust’s responsibilities is to create awareness amongst the public of the dangers of being a jockey. Mr Innes admits that even those who attend races regularly will have little idea about the risks inherent in riding.

“An average jockey is about 53kg, they ride a thoroughbred racehorse of some 500-550kg in weight, at approximately 45km/hr in a field of 12-16 horse on average. So there’s not much margin for error when it comes to incidents or accidents.”

Whilst most people may not take a particular interest in gambling, the trust hopes to educate the public about the courage of the young men and women who take the risk of getting on a horse every day in order to keep the industry ticking over.

“Without jockeys, there’s no industry,” Mr Innes explains, “and [there are] only 830 licensed riders across the country to keep this mammoth industry ticking over on a daily basis.”

Covering the cost of injury

Even though jockeys working in Australia are considered contractors under common law, they are deemed employees of the clubs they ride for on the day of a race, and are therefore eligible for benefits through worker’s compensation.

“It’s the more significant injuries, and those injuries that bring about the end of a career, where we see the support services working particularly well now through the National Jockeys Trust to provide support and assistance with rehabilitation.”

The support the trust is able to provide in terms of rehabilitation is fairly limited in Australia, but ongoing assistance with advice and support to families, and in particular the finances required to recover from a long-term injury, is invaluable.

“The trust is there not just for current riders,” Mr Innes explains, “but we assist former riders who might have fallen on hard times as a result of injury or illness, and we’ve assisted many former riders in that way.”

With such a saturation of sports in the country, any organisation with ties to a sport must work particularly hard to make itself seen and stand out from the crowd. The National Jockeys Trust is no different.

“We are sports mad [in Australia], and there are so many ways that people can participate in sports. Of course this is a sport that involves gambling, and gambling these days has taken on a multi-faceted aspect, in regards to online and many other forms of gambling.”

One of the ways the trust has raised its profile is via a sponsorship arrangement with LUCRF Super, a leading Australian superannuation firm, which has provided ongoing financial support for the trust.

“The way that is elevated is that jockeys ride with a pair of breeches that have on them the LUCRF Super logo, and we explain to people that as part of the sponsorship deal, all the funds go to the trust to support seriously injured or ill jockeys.”

Traditionally, younger people have come into the sport through a love of horses, particularly those from more provincial areas. Many of them find their way into the industry through pony clubs and similar organisations.

“The industry is big and far and wide. We’re a horse loving country, and we have been since the first fleet arrived here, and the number of horses across the country has generated a significant interest for young people to become involved.”

The problem in recent years has been the increase in average weight of the population, making it more difficult for young people wanting to ride to stay under the minimum weight requirements to become a professional rider.

“That is one of the reasons why we’re seeing more female riders come into the industry over the last ten years,” Mr Innes explains. “Ten years ago there would have been a handful of female riders probably across the country, now about 27% of jockeys are female.”

Increasing services to jockeys in the future

“Up to date we’ve concentrated on providing immediate and meaningful assistance for jockeys in need as a result of injury or illness. That’s been our mission. But in the future, we would like the trust to concentrate on establishing relationships with rehabilitation centres.”

This desire is driven by a growing trend in the UK, where the national body for jockeys, the Injured Jockeys Fund, has formed relationships with two rehabilitation centres, one in Yorkshire and one in Berkshire, to increase the level of support for jockeys in need.

“They are providing support services for physiotherapy, hydro-pool treatments of jockeys who have spinal injuries, maybe brain injuries, or even not so significant injuries, but injuries that are keeping the rider out.”

The trust believes that such a direction would be extremely beneficial to riders in Australia, and has become one of the major goals for its future plans. The size of the country in comparison to the UK, however, makes it much harder to form such relationships.

“We would probably like to partner with various rehab centres around the country, whereby we’re able to perhaps inject funds to work in partnership with those rehab places to provide services to our members who are suffering certain injuries.”

A further area the trust is keen to explore is a system of outreach, another key component of the UK model. The Injured Jockey Fund has a group of almoners who contact and visit injured jockeys to assess their needs and offer ongoing assistance.

“The trustees believe that would be something we would like to introduce. We’d like to have half a dozen or so people who can make contact, see how they’re handling their illness or injury, and provide whatever support can be provided, until they recover.”

After almost fifteen years of providing invaluable assistance to ill or injured jockeys and their families, it is clear that the National Jockeys Trust is not going to slow down. Such an organisation is invaluable to the continued wellbeing of riders across the country.

Find out more about the National Jockeys Trust by visiting www.njt.org.au.