Championing the jockeys

15 May 2023 Written by VRC

They perform in public as an athlete every day in a sport that is as demanding as it is thrilling. Jockeys, like our equine stars, require support in all aspects of the industry.

Jockeys are people of courage, skill, athleticism and confidence. They are adaptable and disciplined, with a lifestyle that clocks up countless kilometres not only on the back of a horse, but also in a car driving to and from racetracks. Early mornings, weight maintenance and continual fine-tuning of fitness and skills doesn’t leave much time for these professionals to tend to all the other things that come from running a small business, which is essentially what they are.

This is where the Australian Jockeys Association and the Victorian Jockeys Association (VJA) steps in. Matt Hyland, CEO for the VJA, is the first point of contact for all Victorian jockeys in the group – of which membership is 100% – fielding questions about anything from Workcover to riding fees to medical or wellbeing issues. “To some degree I am like a triage nurse,” he said. “I am the first point of contact and then I determine the support they need.”

With a close working relationship with Racing Victoria, Hyland’s role is also to act as  conduit between the governing body and the participants, negotiating and revising rules and regulations so that they are in the jockeys’ best interests. “We listen to the jockeys’ needs and ensure that they are taken to RV so that we can come up with the best compromise. Our support can also be in smaller ways, even down to helping fill out forms. Administration and finance are time-consuming and don’t come naturally to many, so we aid them in these areas, too.”

Unlike other sports, where there tends to be an ‘end date’ to a career, jockeys determine their own. Unless they suffer a career-ending injury, jockeys can often work well into their 40s. The VJA provides expertise therefore in the space of career transition. “Whether jockeys have unfortunately had their career cut short or are looking to retire, we are there to guide them,” said Hyland. “The career of a jockey also starts very young, so many have not known anything else before the racing industry. We help them with new opportunities and continue to check in on them for as long as is needed.” 

Superannuation, the Voluntary Savings Fund and a career benefit scheme are all means set up to support jockeys financially upon retirement. The VJA also has a relationship with the National Jockeys Trust, a charity organisation dedicated to raising funds for the injured or ill jockeys. “We work closely with the NJT, especially for older cases where there was no superannuation.” 

Health and wellbeing is a major component of the VJA’s support, with a sports doctor and sports psychologist provided for all jockeys. The Jockey Assistance Program is a free confidential service offered to riders and their immediate families, and benefits riders past and present. “Our sports psychologist Lisa Stevens has great expertise. She has access to a big range of professionals that she can direct jockeys to if they are in need.” The sporting environment hasn’t always been conducive to encouraging openness when it comes to mental health, but this is now changing as a more open dialogue builds a culture of empathy and respect. 

“Our members are a great group that really stick together,” said Hyland. “We are always 100 percent united and our association sees every single one of them on equal footing. We can’t control their opportunities, but we can control the service we give them.”