'Depression is as common as the cold' - admits Limerick jockey Mark Enright

Colm Kinsella

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Colm Kinsella

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ckinsella@limerickleader.ie

'Depression is as common as the cold' - admits Limerick jockey Mark Enright

Mark Enright on Turbojet, during the Monksfield Novice Hurdle at Navan Racecourse. The Limerick jockey chats to Colm Kinsella about riding, preview nights and his battle with mental health

"THERE is very little glamour for a lot of us, very little. It is early mornings, long drives and getting soaked wet, covered in s***e, hopping from one yard to another. They are long old days. ‘Tis far from glamorous.”

The daily and weekly grind is part and parcel of life in one of the toughest sporting pursuits around, but Mark Enright is back in love with life as a jump jockey.

The talented Limerick horseman, now living close to the Curragh, rode one of the biggest winners of his career at the big Dublin Racing Festival weekend at Leopardstown recently, three years after making his battle with depression public. The reaction to his story was overwhelming, both from within racing and beyond.

A 2016 survey found almost two-thirds of professional Irish jockeys suffer from depression.

The Castlemahon horseman has been through a tough time, but has come out the other side.

Mark Enright had no family background in horses, but got involved in pony racing.

“My father had greyhounds now and again, but there was no horses in my background," Mark Enright said.

"A neighbour of mine down the road kept a couple of ponies, but to start off with I was afraid of my life of them, I wouldn't go in under the fence to them or anything.  But something just clicked with me one day and I was bitten by the bug after that.

"I did a couple of seasons pony racing, unsuccessfully, broke a few bones and caused a bit of damage. I never rode a winner pony racing, but I started an apprenticeship when I was 16, left school and it all took off from there.”

After spending time initially with Tipperary trainer Mick Murphy , Enright later moved to Tommy Stack’s stables, before joining Dessie Hughes' yard.

Then, in January 2015, Mark Enright bravely revealed a deep secret to the world – he was battling depression.

Enright recalled to Leader Sport: "For about a year I was always feeling tired. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. I would have a lie in on a Saturday or Sunday and think I would be fine on Monday, but I wasn't and I'd stay in bed again on the Monday.

"I didn't really know what was wrong with me. I was taking tonics and vitamins and I still wasn't getting any better, never feeling great.

"After a while I realised this isn't right, there is something wrong with me. It got very bad, it got worse and worse until I thought there was no return really.

"I didn't want to go racing, didn't want to go riding out. I didn't want to do anything really. I'd stay in bed all day, every day if I could.

"The simplest of things became nearly impossible, making a cup of tea, or going to the fridge, it was a big issue, I was thinking about it, didn't want to do it. Everything just became almost impossible for me. Eventually I realised it was depression. It all came to a head one day, I had a breakdown.

"It is hard to think at one stage that there was nothing left in life for me and now things couldn't be any better.

"Riding a winner was just kinda bringing me back to normal. I just felt normal, I didn't feel good about myself, whereas now if I ride a winner, it is great. That goes for any sort of a winner, it is a great buzz. I was getting no buzz out of anything really then and that was very hard.

"For me, in this game, if you get a fall and your leg isn't broken or you don't have a broken bone, and you don't ride in the next race you're seen as soft. If you can walk, get back up and ride it. 

"I thought people will think I am soft, I didn't want anyone to know really. I didn't know what to think at the time, I was a bit of a mess. Everything was all over the place. I didn't want to show a sign of weakness. Then one thing led to another. 

"Thankfully, with the help of my friends and Dr Adrian McGoldrick, the Turf Club doctor, who I can't praise enough, they got me back on track.

"I spent a bit of time in St Pat's in Dublin. Some people knew what had happened and that I was in St Pat's, other people didn't. I spoke to Dr McGoldrick before I went back riding in Gowran Park that week and I said some people know and some don't. I felt I was going to be going back into the weighroom and wondering who knows and who doesn't know? With the help of Adrian (McGoldrick), I decided to do an interview in the Racing Post. I am not trying to sound selfish now, but I did it for myself, for my own conscience. I said I would let people know and I would be done with it then.

“I never thought it was going to be as big as what it was. The reaction I got from it was unbelievable. I still get lads sending me messages, saying thanks a million, thanks for your help.

"Even one lad told me one day, 'thanks very much, you saved my life'. I was only doing it to help myself, but thankfully it has helped an awful lot of people. That is great.

“It broke the shell around the whole thing (depression) in racing. Depression is widely spoken about in racing now and we have taken away some of the stigma of it. It is not all gone, but hopefully some day it will. 

“The time in St Pat’s did me the world of good. It freshened me up again. I did a bit of therapy and was on anti-depressants for a while. It took a while to get over it. There are still bad days, but at the minute, I couldn't be happier really. 

"It is crazy. Depression is as common as the cold and so many people have it and you just don't know.

"If we can get more and more people talking about it, hopefully some day everyone will be able to be cured and as Dr McGoldrick said to me the other day it is very, very curable.

"I know that only too well. I thought there was no way out for me. I couldn't be any better now. We just need to keep spreading the word and get more people talking.”

Enright, who is currently riding out for leading trainer Gordon Elliott four mornings a week, enjoyed big race success at Leopardstown's recent Dublin Racing Festival when partnering Off You Go in the €100,000 Coral Handicap Hurdle for Ballingarry trainer Charles Byrnes and leading owner JPMcManus.

Enright said: "To win a big pot like that, such a big race, as jockeys we all know it as the 'Pearse Hurdle', I could name plenty of winners of it over the past 20 years. It is a famous enough old race and it was great to win it.

"To win it for Charles (Byrnes), who only trains about six miles from me at home, was great. In the colours of JP McManus then was huge as well. It was a good winner for Limerick.

"You could ride as many winners as you want during the week in Thurles, Navan on a Saturday and you might get a couple of text messages, but when it is on RTE TV like that, everyone sees it and the phone was hopping for two days after.

"That is nice too, when people you grow up with see it, lads you went to school with are texting you to say well done and stuff. That is a good old buzz.

"My aim for me from here is to try and get a few more big winners, get as many rides as I can.

“I am down a bit numbers wise with rides on last year, but we will keep pucking on, try and pay a few bills!”

The Cheltenham Preview Night circuit is in full swing and Enright will be on the panel for an event at the Yankee Clipper in Foynes on Friday, March 2 at 8pm.