Jockey Aubrey McMahon beat the cyberbullies by winning the biggest horse race of his life on the opening day of the Galway festival.
Cyberbullying almost stopped the 19-year-old from experiencing the unbridled joy of winning the €100,000 Connacht Hotel Handicap feature race at Galway on Monday.
Winning the race on Whiskey Sour and for his dad Luke, who owns the horse, was the stuff of dreams.
Aubrey’s whole family was emotional after the Willie Mullins-trained horse raced to victory, not just because of his impressive win, but because the young man thought he would never ride another horse again after he gave up the sport as a direct result of social media attacks.
“I don’t particularly want to bring attention on myself but I think it’s important for people to know what cyberbullying can do and how it can affect people. I want to raise awareness of how it can affect people and the awful effects it can have.
“Thankfully I don’t take on board what strangers say about me anymore,” said the Kildare man.
“Since the age of five or six, I always wanted to be a jockey. It was always my dream. When I turned 16 years old, I started getting a few rides in races and had my first winner at a race meeting in Galway,” he said.
“But after my sixth or seventh ride as a jockey the anonymous taunting started, particularly on Twitter, as I used it a good bit. It was after a race in Bellewstown I remember coming in (to the weigh room) and checking my phone for calls or texts. There were lots of anonymous tweets about me on Twitter and I was called every name under the sun and the hatred towards me was just awful.
After a few more races, I was starting to get paranoid about what was going to be on my phone.”
When Aubrey found out there was an online forum about him, it was the final straw.
“You would get a dirty message full of hatred and nasty language. I was starting to not enjoy going out in races as I didn’t know what would be on my phone when I got back.”
One year later, at the age of 17 he folded his racing silks, for what he thought was the last time.
“I had enough and I couldn’t take it anymore. I got a really good job as a junior trader in Sandyford in Dublin and I enjoyed it a lot. I had great prospects but horse racing was always my first love.”
“I had the hunger for racing back and trainer Gordon Elliot who lives about 25 minutes from me in Meath took me on for a couple of days a week and then Willie Mullins gave me a few days’ work as well.”
During his 18 months in his office job, Aubrey realised he had to change his mindset about social media and cyberbullying.
“Thankfully my confidence in my ability is now back and I’m not listening to the keyboard bullies anymore. I just think that a lot of these bullies are targeting jockeys because they had €5 or €10 on a bet on them and they lost so they take it out on the jockey.
“Obviously I’m not the only jockey who has been bullied by these ‘racing trolls’ as I call them.
“Jockeys Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty get bullying messages all the time but you have to have to think of what they say to you differently.
“Those people are only cowards.
“I’m glad I’m not like them and I still use Twitter but in a different way now. But mentally I’m so much stronger now but more high profile people need to speak out about cyberbullying and what it can do to people.”
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