A Spotlight on Stress in the Era of COVID: Graham Motion


Graham Motion | Racing Post

Working in racing has always been a stressful occupation; a roller-coaster of emotions, triumphs and tragedies, long hours and travel. Add a global pandemic and unprecedented economic worry, with many participants fearing for their health, livelihoods and businesses, and the stress can become almost overwhelming. It's the sort of topic many people don't like to talk about, but we asked several industry participants to open about what particular


It is a stressful sport to be involved in, but at the end of the day, it's still a sport. We represent an important industry, but I think you have to keep things in perspective. I was listening to an interview recently by Chris Martin from Coldplay, and he said, “Every time somebody interviews me they always say, 'Oh, you must be so stressed, or so tired from traveling.' And I always think to myself, 'I'm playing music. It's what I enjoy. It's what I do.'” So in the same way, we're so lucky to do what we do, and we have to keep that in perspective.

Having said that, of course it's stressful. Horses are unpredictable. People often look at me and tell me that I look stressed. I am stressed, but a lot of that is intensity. You're always thinking of the next thing that could go wrong or trying to prevent it. Because with horses, things go wrong. You can't control that. I have to be able to explain that to an owner, and that can be stressful. Stress at the races occurs because you want the horses to perform well, and you have to be able to explain to their owners when they don't.

I'm constantly worried about horses getting injured. I feel a tremendous responsibility to my horses, that they stay healthy. The same goes for my riders and my employees. I have a huge payroll, close to 100 employees. I obviously have a responsibility to them and appreciate that they depend on me. When you mix that into the era of COVID and dealing with this present situation, that adds a whole new level of concern. Of course I don't want my help to get sick. I think that was my biggest worry when this all came about– making sure that we were taking the best precautions to keep everyone healthy.

Sending Alice [Clapham, Assistant Trainer] to England with Sharing was a worry for me, partly because it involved a great deal of traveling for Alice. Of course none of us wanted her to get sick. It was an added responsibility that you feel for your employees.

There was also the stress of not knowing where we were going in terms of racing. There was a payroll to meet and there was a period where we really didn't know what would happen. But again, you had to put it into perspective. We're training horses. We're outdoors. I had extremely supportive owners who never questioned anything when racing was shut down. I'm very fortunate that I play at the level that I do. I'm sure it was not that way for everyone across the board. For someone that might have only six or seven horses, I appreciate that it might have been very different for them.

I'm extremely fortunate because of the support group I have in my family. My wife is incredibly supportive. I think it would be very difficult for me to do what I do without that. When I come home on a Monday morning, after a weekend like I just had where nothing goes right, I'm scratching my head wondering if I know anything about this sport. It doesn't matter how long you've been doing it, it sometimes feels like you're starting over. You have to rise above it, because you know things can and will turn around. We had an amazing run the month after racing started where everything seemed to click, and then a few weeks later you feel like you can't get anything right. That's just part of the game, and I've been in it long enough to know that.

Throw into that the responsibility you have to the owners, and that you want them to be successful with their investment along with a staff that depends on you success. To come home to a family and staff that supports you, doesn't question you, and understands the mood swings that you're going to have is so important. I have a staff that never questions my decisions (perhaps they do to themselves!), but they're always extremely supportive. In that respect, I'm very fortunate and wouldn't have it any other way. I can't imagine doing this on a daily basis and not having a team that supports you because you're constantly making gut decisions. You're making decisions a hundred times a day and hoping you are doing the best thing for the horse and your owner's investment. Surrounding yourself with people who support you is incredibly important.

For people just getting in the game, self-doubt can be tough. So you want people behind you that don't question you, because you'll already be questioning yourself enough. You have to make your own gut decisions and stick by them. At the end of the day, you love being around the horses and that's what you enjoy. We're so lucky to be doing what we're doing.

I also have concerns for the jockeys who are put under a huge amount of stress. Not just through riding and wanting to perform well, but also there's the worry of injury and presently, sickness.

We're so quick to be critical of jockeys in our sport, and these guys are expected to perform at the top level day in and day out. What they deal with on a day-to-day basis, I don't think any of us can get our heads around. They are competing and at the same time trying to keep their weight down, keep the owners and trainers happy, all while trying to stay positive. We find it difficult to monitor our weight just going about our daily lives, and then you take these athletes that are on a strict diet trying to stay healthy and perform in an incredibly dangerous sport.

Add to that the recent concerns of the Coronavirus, they are not making a living if they are not riding. I realize that they have a choice and that the rewards can be huge, but so can the risks. I think it's a shame in our sport that we don't do more to help these guys because we couldn't operate without them. We should be doing everything we can to keep them healthy and at the very least, provide them with regular COVID testing. These are complicated times and as an industry, we should be going out of our way to support the participants.

Would you like to share your thoughts on stress during this particularly difficult time? Email the TDN's Katie Ritz at [email protected] or Sue Finley at [email protected]

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