April 16, 2024

Female Jockeys Breaking Barriers: A Look at Gender Equality in Horse Racing

The thrilling sport of horse racing has a history that spans centuries, filled with legendary figures.

The thrilling sport of horse racing has a history that spans centuries, filled with legendary figures and moments from races across the globe. Horse racing has historically been a male-dominated sport, with most jockeys participating in races throughout history being male. Female jockeys have been relatively rare, but this has begun to change in recent years as new, female rising stars have stepped into the spotlight. There are still many fewer female jockeys than male jockeys on the racetrack today, but this imbalance is steadily improving as female jockeys begin to rack up achievements and write a new chapter in horse racing history.

Historical Context of Gender Disparity

As with many other sports, female athletes have struggled to get to the point where they can now compete as jockeys against their male counterparts.

Over many years, aspiring female jockeys battled against entrenched stereotypes, criticism, defamation, and active discrimination to create a space for themselves in this prestigious sport and receive the recognition they deserve for their achievements.

One example of the barriers faced by early female jockeys was the reaction to Penny Ann Early’s attempt to compete at Churchill Downs in 1968, which was ultimately foiled following a boycott by male jockeys and scathingly sexist editorials that mocked Early’s athletic aspirations.

This type of behaviour was commonplace in the sport at this time, and only through admirable perseverance and admiration for the sport were female jockeys able to secure their place in the world of horse racing.

Rise of Female Jockeys

Since these early efforts, the number of female jockeys participating in horse races around the world has continued to rise as they prove their ability to compete at the highest level of the sport.

Until the early 2000’s, female jockeys received around 3-5% of rides globally, marking them as a minority on the racetrack compared to their male counterparts. This period saw a number of female jockeys win impressive accolades and exhibit fantastic performances, but the number of female riders remained relatively few.

However, over the past decade, the number of rides given to female jockeys has increased considerably. In the United Kingdom, the British Horseracing Authority found that the number of rides received by female jockeys has increased substantially since the early 2010s.

According to the report, female jockeys went from receiving only 5.7% of rides in 2010 to 9.62% of rides in 2021, despite the racing calendar being larger in size by 2021 and more rides being available.

This trend is an encouraging one for the future of the sport, signaling that the presence of female jockeys on the racetrack is becoming accepted and normalised, as is long overdue.

The Most Notable Female Jockeys 

Any list of the most famous female jockeys of all time would have to be topped by Hayley Turner, the English phenomenon whose career encompassed more than 1,500 wins in flat racing. Turner was the first female jockey ever to ride 100 UK flat race winners in a single calendar year.

Famous female jockeys from across the Atlantic include Julie Krone and Rosie Napravnik, both Thoroughbred jockeys from the United States. Krone is known as the most successful female jockey in US history, boasting total career earnings of $90,126,584 and 3,700 wins. Napravnik followed in Krone’s footsteps, amassing an impressive $71,426,717 in career earnings and 1,877 wins.

Other notable female jockeys include Australian Melbourne Cup winner Michelle Payne, who also posted impressive career earnings and wins.

The legacy of female jockeys continues today, with rising stars like Saffie Osborne making her mark on the sport through her impressive performance and participation in the Racing League competition, a new competition with an exciting team-based format.

The Vision for an Inclusive Future

As horse racing continues to evolve and become a more inclusive and diverse sport, the future looks bright for female jockeys, with growing representation and engagement.

Inclusivity is being further improved by initiatives to provide equal opportunities for female jockeys in training, racing, and leadership roles within the industry. Additionally, fostering a culture of respect and support for female athletes can help break down barriers and promote gender equality. 

Ultimately, the vision for an inclusive future in horse racing encompasses aspirations for an industry that embraces diversity and empowers individuals of all backgrounds to pursue their passion for the sport.