Jo writes a cracker!!

Jo Davis (left)
JDR

Our staffing situation has been rather frustrating over the last few weeks for a few reasons, none that are particularly important but it has made me watch with interest the comments and reports in various racing media re the “critical staffing problems within racing”

I have heard both sides of the problem, the trainer’s perspective, from the small trainer to the big trainer and from the staff’s perspective too.  Now as a small trainer who employs 3 full time staff and a couple of part time/freelance people and from someone who started as a stable lass, here’s what I hear, in a nutshell:

  • Trainers are constantly short staffed, there is a massive lack of young people going into our industry.
  • Staff are disgruntled because they don’t earn enough and work too many hours.

All we are doing is going round and round in circles, I have answered 3 questionnaires in the last year, asking me about the staffing crisis.  NONE of them asked the right questions.

Why are we lacking young people coming into the industry and how can we change it? Here are my views for what they are worth, first though let me tell you my staff’s conditions. 

They start at 6 and finish at 12 with half an hour for breakfast.  I Would love to start later and finish later but our gallop shuts at 11 so we barely get all the exercising done as it is and during the winter racing starts so early we need to get as much riding done as we can as soon as its light enough.

They then come back at 3.30 and finish at 5.  They get a day and a half off a week.  I pay a sunday lady (at a cost of £2500 a year) so that only one of my staff needs to work on a sunday and the others are off, if they work a sunday they are off on a Thursday, they get to choose their afternoons to suit.  I pay overtime for every hour worked over but I draw the line if they are late finishing because they are not organised or have been faffing. I pay 5 weeks paid holidays as well as their 5.5 day week of 40 hours…I would love to go to a 5 day week but that would cost me another member of staff at about £23k a year, not viable for me at all…I also pay for 5 weeks paid holiday and the sick pay goes without saying.

I had to write a report/letter to the BHA outlining why I am doing something different to the memorandum that we have to adhere to, which is a 12.5 day fortnight one weekend in two. What do the BHA think is going to happen if they don’t change the rules??? DO they think some trainers are going to change things out of the goodness of their hearts?  I know big trainers who charge upwards of £70 a day (£30 a day MORE than I do) paying their staff less than I do…I have pointed this out to the powers that be (a year and a half ago mind) and their reply was “Jo its people like you who are leading the way in giving staff better conditions…” WTF? I can barely afford to get through each month, I do not owe anybody anything and I would rather not eat than not pay my staff, so WHY are there trainers getting away with it?

Next moan is the amount of racing, clearly we as trainers must run horses where the right races are, however it is relentless for a small trainer with a child and NO family support, No partner involved in racing and No nanny (although personally I wouldn’t want one, I love the time I spend with my daughter).

The evening racing in the summer is so hard, we start early to avoid the heat and sometimes we may not get home until 1 in the morning, then back out on the yard at 5/6 (that’s me not my staff as they, by law have rights, I don’t).  As a small trainer, I don’t have the luxury of not working and that is MY CHOICE I know but I don’t have the choice if the only race for a horse is at Uttoxeter in the 9pm, of course an owner and I want their horse to run where they can win. 

However the staff still get exhausted because they are dedicated and on a small yard we all feel the strain, we don’t have the dilution of enough people to take the strain.  Pretty much every person I speak to who does travelling laughs when you point out they should not be doing the hours they do…”Fat chance, are you joking, I would get the sack? We are too busy” are the standard answers.

These massive trainers are killing our industry, making racing far too disposable, the turnover of horses is hideous, they farm them out to pre trainers who can have up to 190 themselves.  They are happy to pay riders £15/18 a lot to only ride (I may consider a career change) and these riders can be doing up to 10/15 in a morning.  No brainer for the riders, where does that leave the good staff who are full time?  Dissatisfied and rightly so, why would you work for £400 a week full time if you can earn £150/200 a morning? The pressure on the existing full time staff leaves them at breaking point and what a kick in the goolies for those who have to watch the “riders” some who are no better than average, come in and earn double what they do…

“You should charge more” is the cry I hear or “these trainers are raking it in and abusing their staff, lets see shall we?

  • My wage bill is about £8000 a month
  • Feed £2600
  • Hay £500
  • Bedding £1000
  • Sundries Feed supplements tack repairs, lorry tax, maintenance, various insurances (employers public, lorry) etc £1500
  • Council tax £290.00
  • Business rates £645.00
  • Electric £150
  • Water £280
  • Vets fees £400

Rent undisclosed but suffice to say without a deal with Mrs Brown I would not be able to train, I can only just afford to pay what I do. So to recap my outgoings are around £17k a month, I am currently invoicing out £18k…and I don’t know where the grand is that I allegedly make, because its never there at the end of the month!!!

Finally colleges are the death of young people going into an industry such as ours.  I have at least a letter a week from someone who has gained a qualification in horse massage, horse psychology or horse behaviour, not to mention the staff who apply for jobs in “management don’t want to be just a lad”. 

Im sorry but when we were younger we all started at the bottom, we rode what we were told to, yes health and safety now would have a baby at the things we did, but do you know what? Im bloody grateful for the fear and terror i felt on a daily basis, it made me the rider and person I am now, my pride made me want to be better than anyone else, if I got a slap or struggled with a horse I learnt from it and it also taught me humility and to respect and work with the horse. 

Now unfortunately over the last few years I have seen a lot of bad riders, who are also angry dissatisfied people who aren’t qualified to do anything else but want more in life. Trainers need to train their staff, however there are those staff who don’t want to be told they are doing it wrong, I have the whole “these are racehorses we don’t ride them that way” No they are horses who need riders who are balanced with good hands, to learn balance we do not pull our stirrups up like Frankie Dettori and swing off their mouths…As for those who hate horses and racing but still work in it, please please do something else, for the good of the horse and the sanity of the trainer and co workers.

The death of the riding school due to the insurance premiums being too high, due to idiots who get onto a living breathing being that has its own mind, who then fall off and sue, is contributing to the death of riders and staff in racing. 

When we were kids we spent the whole day at the stables, I was a privileged child who had a pony but I spent all day every day I could at the stables with kids who didn’t have their own ponies, they helped all day in return for rides, that taught them the value of riding.  When my parents lost their money I rode for other people, I was paid to do it at 14/15 and paid badly.  But I was so proud that they wanted me, I didn’t want to let them down, I wanted to repay them.

I don’t see that anymore, I had a 15 year old girl part time who was home schooled so I employed her part time, she was due to work a Sunday and text me at 8 the night before to say she wasn’t coming in because she had split up with her boyfriend and was too upset to work, her head was in the wrong place… WTF??? My mum would have bounced me out of the house and kicked my butt.  Her parents thought I was in the wrong because I didn’t text her back or call her to offer support, I haven’t employed her since…

Yes there are those of you will be reading this thinking well Jo’s obviously no good at what she does, no wonder she hasn’t got any money, she shouldn’t be training and that’s your opinion…

Mine is that I have chosen to treat my owners, horses and staff properly, get the best out of the horses who would be considered average and will win in the right conditions, not throw them away as soon as they have an issue. By doing this I spare no expense on the horses, I also employ 3 full time people, none of whom earn any less than £400 a week (apart from me!), pay their pensions, pay their Tax and NI, pay my Tax NI, pay corporation tax, pay two lots of council tax, pay business rates, supply one lot of accommodation and have taught countless people over the years, the good ones have gone on to brilliant jobs, become jockeys and or started their own businesses. So I think I am well qualified to do what I do and give my opinion on how things are going and how we can make them better.

Racing is a way of life, agree or disagree, it is never going to be 9-5, however we do need to find the middle ground and both sides, employer and employee have to try to work together. Here endeth the sermon…

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