Twenty-six year old Bryony Frost is the most successful female National Hunt jockey in British history. She’s got more than 175 wins to her name and is the first female rider to win the King George VI Chase, one of the three biggest races in Britain. And yet, there’s an undercurrent of resentment against her that played out in a shameful example of bullying and harassment.
Last year, Frost reported Irish jockey Robbie Dunne for repeatedly using foul, sexually abusive and misogynistic language toward toward her, as well as threatening to cause her serious physical harm. The case was recently decided in her favor, with Dunne initially suspended for 18 months, which was reduced to 10 months on appeal.
However, what her accusation — and the resulting response — revealed is that the racetrack is not yet a safe place for female jockeys and that the time for the “self policing” behavior in the weighing room, should be over. In no workplace is Dunne’s behavior acceptable. In fact his abusive comments highlight why there are still so few female jockeys (note: a recent study of races in Britain showed no difference in the results based on the gender of the jockeys). In jump racing, female jockeys still account for only 0.8% of rides in Class 1 races.
Charges of Harassment and Bullying
The charges against Dunne include the following.
- On Feb. 13 at Leicester, Dunne is accused of calling Frost “a f***ing slag and a dangerous f***ing whore.”
- On July 8 at Stratford, Dunne pulled his horse up near Frost’s after a race and allegedly said: “you’re a fucking whore … and if you ever fucking murder me like that again, I’ll murder you.” (“Murder” in this context refers to cutting off a rival in a race)
- On July 29 at Market Rasen, Dunne is alleged to have ridden over-aggressively toward Frost.
- On Aug. 17 at Uttoxer, Dunne is alleged to have said to Frost: “I’m going to stop you murdering everyone, I’m going to murder you.”
- On Sept. 3 at Southwell, after Dunne’s mount fell and was fatally injured. Blaming Frost for causing the fall, he is reported to have later accosted Frost in the weighing room, threatening her with physical harm: “the next time I ride against you, I promise I will put you through a wing [of a fence].”
Dunne frequently subjected Frost to spiteful mockery over her post-race interview style, including in public via social media. Frost also said Dunne had “opened his towel and shook himself” in front of her in the men’s changing room in 2017, where female jockeys would sometimes go to collect kit, an allegation he denied. The two jockeys reportedly fell out after that incident and subsequently, when Dunne made jokes and comments about his sexual relations with other women jockeys, Frost stood up to him and said his behavior was not acceptable.
Fellow Jockeys Ostracized her for Speaking Out
During her testimony, Frost spoke emotionally about Dunne’s bullying of her, but also of how as a result of speaking out, she was ostracized by male and female colleagues in the weighing room.
“The isolation I felt for speaking out I wouldn’t wish on anyone,” she said. “I don’t know about any other jockeys, but if I talk about myself I would never threaten or intentionally scare someone by saying I promise I will hurt you. No way is that right in human nature and not what you tell somebody.
“Dad [Grand National-winning rider Jimmy Frost] always told me to stay quiet, don’t start anything, just let it happen and move on. I used to think this but [with] the promise to hurt someone there’s only so much you can take.”Bryony Frost
Sadly, not only did most jockeys fail to step in or condemn Dunne’s behavior, they defended him when the charges were made public.
Dunne was found in breach on four counts of conduct prejudicial to horse racing by an independent three-person disciplinary panel of the British Horseracing Authority, which looked into evidence of his behavior toward Frost.
It has progressed from disgraceful targeting, through deliberate harassment both on and off the course, and onwards to occasional cases of dangerous bullying.
We find that the words used on September 3 were as a promise to cause real harm and were over and above the usual jockey mantra of “murdering”.disciplinary panel chair Brian Barker
Let’s hope that the public support she received from the British Horse Racing Authority, and her fans, will help keep the joy that Bryony feels when racing and that by speaking up, she is able to positively impact the weighing room culture both for her and for future generations of female jockeys.
“Blissfulness is definitely a word I would use, being out there galloping, because in a frantic world it is the one place that allows me to slow my mind down and think nothing else than me and my partner. It’s bliss, it’s smooth, it’s effortless, especially with him [Frodon]. He is a timeless joy.”