David Howard
- Scientific Researcher

David rode as a Conditional Jockey for Martin Pipe from 2000 – 2003 having been an Apprentice to Stuart Williams before that. He rode 5 winners from around 100 rides. Due to a lack of opportunities he retired as a jockey and set up his own website design business. He remained in touch with JETS who helped fund a Degree Course at the Royal Agricultural College in Equine Management. He became really interested in breeding and genetics and went on to complete a Genetics PhD at Edinburgh University in 2015. He is now working on a 3 year Research Fellowship and hopes to use his knowledge of genetics in the world of bloodstock at a later stage in his career.

What made you decide to stop riding?

I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to ride out my claim and there was so much strong competition, I decided I would set up my own business developing websites. This is something I’d done for myself as a jockey, promoting myself, recording my winners, and writing a blog and I was getting some really positive feedback on it.

Why did you decide to do a degree course?

While I got quite a lot of business, I couldn’t really make it pay. I did try other jobs but I wasn’t feeling challenged. I got advice from Lisa and JETS at every stage and really wanted to stay in racing but there weren’t many opportunities and many employers wanted graduates. So I decided to do the Equine Management degree at the Royal Agricultural College which JETS helped to fund. It was a mixture of business and science subjects and I really enjoyed it. I was able to further my understanding of the areas in which I had already gained experience during my career.

What led you to carry on your academic career and do a PhD?

I graduated from the RAC with a first class degree in 2010 and really hoped to get a job in the racing industry but I didn’t have any success, especially with the economic downturn. I had really become interested in the breeding and genetics of horses while doing my degree and so I applied to do a Genetics PhD at the Roslin Institute which is part of the University of Edinburgh. It was a 4 year course and is one of the best places to study animal genetics in the world. I worked on a number of projects during this time, looking at the management of genetic diversity in livestock and how breeders produce the best animals for their businesses.

What are your plans for the future?

I am keen to build up as much scientific research experience as possible. I am now settled with my wife in Edinburgh and have just started a three year Research Fellowship position working on how genetics is linked to depression. In the future, I would be very keen to work in the equine world, although there is less funding for equine research. I hope that I could be involved in the genetic analysis of bloodstock, combining my horseracing experience and scientific knowledge.

What skills as a jockey have you found useful in your new career?

When I was riding, I analysed form a lot and this definitely helped me develop an analytical mind. My understanding of pedigrees has been really helpful when working with livestock and being able to visualise multiple generations of animals and how genes spread through a population.

What advice would you give to jockeys considering their future careers now?

When I started out in my career after riding, I would never have dreamed that I would work in academia. You never really know what will happen, so I’d advise that they keep their minds open. Don’t dismiss other people’s suggestions, take time to consider what you want to do and that will help you get where you want to be.

February 2016