Meet the father working to support mental health in horseracing industry after losing son to suicide

With every penny that he has raised since losing his son to suicide in 2019, Simon Jones has not lost sight of his ultimate goal – to have a trained mental health first aider in every workplace in the horseracing industry.

Tim Jones was 17 when he died, a popular individual in the horseracing community and a member of the team at Micky Hammond’s training yard in Middleham, North Yorkshire.

Since the tragedy, his dad Simon has taken on various fundraising challenges to support Racing Welfare’s mental health first aid courses, raising more than £25,000.

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His efforts have contributed to more than 500 people receiving mental health training and nearly 250 becoming qualified mental health first aiders in the past three years.

Simon Jones has been raising money to fund mental health courses in the horseracing industry.Simon Jones has been raising money to fund mental health courses in the horseracing industry.
Simon Jones has been raising money to fund mental health courses in the horseracing industry.

Simon, who lives close to Leyburn, says: “I said all along that if we can stop one person doing what Tim did and stop another family from going through what we continue to go through then that’s a success and I have no doubt we have achieved that.”

Tim had been a fan of horses throughout his life. He began helping out at the yard from the age of 12, mucking out, riding out and later attending races with the team. He became interested in eventing too after his family bought him a sports horse and his dream was to become a racehorse trainer.

“He got thoroughly involved in the whole horse racing scene and enjoyed the camaraderie, the banter and got to be quite a well known face around Middleham,” Simon explains. “He was a real all round equestrian.”

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Tim’s death came “out of the blue”, Simon says. “There was absolutely no warning at all. Everybody was completely shocked, surprised, didn’t see it coming. As a family, we certainly never spotted anything.

Tim Jones was a popular member of the horseracing community.Tim Jones was a popular member of the horseracing community.
Tim Jones was a popular member of the horseracing community.

“In the aftermath, you go looking for answers because it’s completely baffling. I went to the yard and chatted to all his mates. I knew they’d be grieving as well and I didn’t want to lock away, I wanted to share that.

"When I was with these people, it dawned on me what an isolated existence it can be doing anything rural and horse racing is no different. It tends to be based in rural communities, there’s a lot of younger people in the racing yards. It’s a job that starts early in the morning and finishes late at night. It’s pretty intense...You just wonder how many more people have pressures that they’re not able or not willing to share.”

Simon began working with the charity Racing Welfare and over the past few years has embarked on a campaign to raise awareness about mental health and to train members of the horseracing industry in simple techniques to spot and support friends and colleagues who may be going through difficult times.

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On his fundraising page, he writes: “I chose running and exercise to both manage my grief and raise money to support the campaign. Running has a hugely beneficial impact on mental health – and as I’ve discovered, helps build resilience, which has helped deal with the savage grief of losing a child.”

Earlier this year, Simon, who is a director within the NHS, set out on a multiple marathon challenge to build on his fundraising. In a 12 month period, he will have tackled seven of them and is due to hit the streets of Seville for his last in the new year.

Racing Welfare runs mental health awareness and first aid courses up and down the country, both online and in-person. The training helps individuals to recognise the early warning signs and symptoms of a person struggling with their mental health, build confidence to start up a conversation, offer support and, if appropriate, signpost to professional help.

Karen Ladym, the mental health lead for Racing Welfare, explains how the courses are heavily subsidised thanks to Simon’s efforts – and they’re having a big impact.

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Hayley Clements, secretary at Micky Hammond Racing, completed the first aid course in the months after Tim’s death. She says: “I found the training very informative and helpful, enabling me to identify when work colleagues are acting differently and how to approach and ask the right questions or just to listen so they feel reassured and at ease.

“We have a policy at work that we check in on everyone every day just to ask if they are ok. If they have any worries we encourage them to come and talk about it.”

When Caitlin Cotterill started working at the yard in early 2021, her first full-time job and the first time living away from her family, she found herself in need of emotional support.

She says: “I was only 16 at the time, and I was missing home and finding it hard to socialise. It’s such a supportive working environment at Micky’s that people quickly picked up on how I was feeling. Everyone here checks in with each other every day, it filters through the whole team from Micky and the senior staff through to everyone on the ground. That’s how they identified that everything wasn’t quite as it should be with me.”

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Caitlin was put in contact with Racing Welfare and received support from its local team. “Without that intervention, and the ongoing support I’ve had in the workplace, I’d no doubt have left the yard and the racing industry to move back home,” she says.

Reflecting on the impact of his fundraising, Simon says: “There’s a legacy for Tim there too. Out of an awful situation, it’s good for me and the family to know that we’ve hopefully moved people away from the situation Tim found himself in.”