SI SPORT WEEK #4-1: Researcher’s profile: Deborah Butler discusses Careers in the Racing Industry

Deborah Butler: University of Warwick researcher studying careers and training in the horse racing industry

Deborah Butler: University of Warwick researcher studying careers and training in the horse racing industry

Most people may have heard about Arkle, Red Rum, even Desert Orchid. How many people will have given a thought about the individuals who made sure these equine athletes made it the racetrack, fit and ready to race? It is these individuals, known collectively as ‘stable lads’ and yes, quite a high percentage of them are women, that I am interested in. Thus my research is investigating the working identities of stable staff who work, for very little reward, in the horseracing industry. Like in many male-dominated occupations and sporting arenas the racing field itself is male dominated , gendered masculine and is struggling to move away from the feudalistic employment relations that once governed the workforce. Women were once excluded from the workforce as entry was controlled by employers, the racehorse trainers through indentured apprenticeship. A knowledge of horses was unnecessary – trainers wanted young boys who were very small and light in weight, no more than 5stone at 14, and no taller, if possible than 5’7”. Indentured apprentices if good enough were given the opportunity to race ride, as apprentices (trainee jockeys) although being indentured did not automatically guarantee the right to race ride. As the supply of small, light boys began to dwindle employers had to look elsewhere for their workforce which was when women, in the late 1960’s, early 1970’s started to be seen working as ‘stable lads’ although they were not legally permitted to race ride. Indentured apprenticeship was abolished in 1976 during a period when wide reaching legislation in the form of the Sex Discrimination Act (1975) amongst other things was introduced. Racing’s ruling body, The Jockey Club had to accept the fact that women could now legally be jockeys.

The racing industry now employs migrant labour to help fill its labour force. Young entrants, racing’s potential workforce, if between the ages of 16-22 must be signed onto a government funded training scheme known as a modern apprenticeship but, and this is an important but, it has nothing to do with being an apprentice jockey! Rather it refers to a type of training that was once synonymous with producing skilled craftsmen and in some occupations, craftswomen. Interestingly 60% of the intake at the British Racing School (BRS) are women. The BRS is one of the two specialist training providers for the racing industry where modern apprentices over a nine week period complete the first part of their training before being found employment in a racing yard. What is perhaps more salient is that a very small proportion of these young women will become apprentice jockeys and an even smaller proportion will become professional jockeys when compared to their male counterparts.

Deborah Butler is PhD candidate at the University of Warwick. Her research is on employment and training in the horse racing industry.

Read more about Deborah’s research here.

Read an article about Deborah and her work on Voices for Horses .

Hear Deborah speak about her research at the Sociology of Sport Seminar (20 June, Warwick University).


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