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Sexual Abuse And Misconduct Within The British Horseracing Industry And Equestrian Sports

The end of February 2024 saw an apology from the British Horseracing Authority following confirmation that they have investigated more than 350 allegations of safeguarding or welfare concerns within the industry since 2018. Worryingly, the BHA has noted that the recent data shows a rise in the number of referrals regarding complex abuse cases, including serious sexual offences.

It has been reported that 26% of the 350 reports were in relation to sexual misconduct – with 41% of the reports within this category being in relation to sexual assault, rape or attempted rape. Extrapolating the figures, it would appear that there have been around 91 reports of sexual misconduct or assault.

The Chair of the BHA, Joe Saumarez Smith, apologised unreservedly to those that had been subjected to sexual assault and abuse, bullying or discrimination stating

“On behalf of British racing, I apologise unreservedly to anyone who has experienced harm and behaviour that is unacceptable. I also want to thank those who have shared their stories and provided powerful personal testimony. We are sorry and we will work determinedly to put this right”

Julie Harrington, the British Horseracing Authority’s chief executive also noted that “for women in particular it has often been easier to keep your head down and suffer in silence” and that she was “truly sorry to hear stories of bullying, sexual misconduct and, in some cases, serious sexual abuse”.

The apologies provided, along with the Safeguarding and Human Welfare Strategy document published by the BHA, shows an intention to bring about change within the industry and indicates that such change is intended to be driven by an improvement in training and education, improved safeguarding procedures and mandatory DBS checks for certain roles.

The BHA’s Safeguarding and Human Welfare Strategy is however silent on the approach that will be taken towards those faced with allegations of sexual misconduct, bullying or misconduct and what steps will be put in place to protect individuals who have made an allegation – and the support that will be provided to them. It is unclear how many have been reported to the police or been subject to criminal investigations as a consequence of allegations of sexual abuse, whether there are repeat offenders and whether or not the police have been informed of any offences directly by the BHA.

The statistics above raise questions regarding other equestrian sports, such as show-jumping or dressage, and if there are similar experiences of abuse within these sports – and whether the matter of sexual misconduct and violence towards women is a much wider, systemic issue.

It is generally well known that equestrian sports tend to attract young people who are keen to pursue a career working with horses and establish themselves within the industry. As can often be the case, those individuals can be vulnerable to abuse and manipulation by more senior, powerful figures and employers. It is often difficult to speak out against abuse, particularly if in fear of jeopardising your career. Further, it may be that earlier disclosures have been ignored and abusive behaviour has gone unchecked, leading others experiencing similar abuse to believe they will not be listened to and no action taken.

Over the years, there have been various watershed moments regarding abuse within sports. In 2016, Andy Woodward disclosed his experiences of abuse at the hands of Barry Bennell whilst a young footballer, hoping to pursue a professional career and this led to hundreds of others disclosing their own experience of abuse within the industry. We have further seen disclosures of abuse within British gymnastics, swimming, martial arts and tennis. There is no place in any sport, including horse racing and the wider equestrian community, for abuse of any kind.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual abuse or assault and would like to have a free, confidential discussion about your options, then Hodge Jones & Allen can help you.

Olivia Coffey, a senior associate in the Civil Liberties & Human Rights team, has many years’ experience in acting for victims of recent and non-recent sexual assault and abuse. She can be contacted directly by emailing or by calling 0808 296 7694.

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