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07 October 2021

“I’m just trying to tell the story that I’ve seen” said writer and director Nathan Horrocks on the exciting launch of The Fall. He reveals the soul-searching journey towards bringing the film to life.

It’s been an incredible journey. When we first started Equine Productions over 10 years ago, people thought we were mad creating videos to go on the internet. We’ve now created award-winning documentaries, but this is the first time we’ve worked on a drama. The story around The Fall came about three years ago when I went through my own struggle with depression. I still struggle even to say that word and feel embarrassed about it – the stigma is still very much there. I was lucky to get help and through this help I started writing this story on my phone.

Support was a game changer

It felt like it was a powerful story, but I am not a script writer usually and I knew these things cost a fortune to create. I first showed it to Paul Struthers (Chief Executive of the Professional Jockeys Association) and he was immediately taken with the project. Paul helped me to get it in front of funders, including the Even Keel Foundation whose work helps men with mental health issues, who for some reason often seem to suffer in silence; and we were so grateful for their support. Nigel Payne from the Peter O’Sullevan Trust gave us the additional financial support and the boost we needed to get going on the project.

I get emotional thinking about it now because their support to make this happen was a game changer. It’s only a 21-minute film but between Covid-19, getting the sound right and portraying the story effectively within a modest budget, it has taken a long time. We only had three days to shoot the film and we needed a big crew to make it happen in that timeframe. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into it. Nigel’s support has been amazing, and he told me that projects like this are the reason they put the Trust together and that it’s exactly the kind of thing the late Sir Peter would want to support.

We used real messages sent to jockeys

The kick up the backside that I needed was losing jockeys James Banks and Liam Treadwell and my two buddies, Dean Crossman, my old valet and Michael Curran, an old friend who used to babysit my brother. I want this to make people think ‘I need help’, ‘I can get help’ and that’s why we’ve told this story.

The hardest part was finding Tom, the main character, played by Daniel Thrace who is usually known for horror films! He was hard to find because as I discovered, jockeys have certain characteristics that were difficult to find in the 35-plus actors we auditioned. Daniel does a great job of hiding the inner turmoil and social media abuse from the outside world.

We’ve used real messages that have been sent to jockeys in the film. My wife didn’t realise and told me to tone down the language in the script and I had to explain that this is what jockeys are receiving. I think people will find it quite shocking when they watch.

I know everyone in racing and society has suffered and it’s not just jockeys. I’m just trying to tell the story that I’ve seen, I’m just trying to narrow it down to the unique pressures jockeys experience. They are freelancers, working under the weight of ‘aren’t jockeys tough’, constantly keeping their many bosses happy; hours on the road; and add the social media abuse on top of that. I experienced abuse when I was a jockey, but it was in real life on-course and I could walk away from it, my phone wasn’t pinging over and over. These pressures are manifesting themselves through alcohol, drugs and mental health battles we’ve seen recently, and often in ways that we don’t see until it is too late.

Jockeys and families feel the brunt 

I know what it’s like – people are betting and they are frustrated and there is an anonymous platform for them to vent their frustration. But if this film does one thing, I just want people to understand that there is a human being at the other end of their message. And not just that human being, but a network of people around them who care about them. That’s where Chloe Wade comes in who plays Tom’s partner in the film, Emily. We are trying to show how that hurts her, too.

I hope it feels authentic and real, that’s what we’ve tried to do, and I think racing will get that, but I hope other sport audiences get it too, because this could be about a cricketer or any other athlete. It’s been an eye-opener over the past year about how hate-speech can affect people’s wellbeing, such as with Simone Biles in gymnastics, and tennis-player Naomi Osaka, as examples.

First time I’ve revealed sport’s darker side

I hope it plants a seed, and among the small number of people who have seen it so far it has started conversations that I hope will lead to positive changes. Going from hiding my battles from everybody, my mum didn’t even know, and I know others are suffering I can see it among the weighing room, to now sharing this film with the outside world has been a real journey.

I had a text message from an old weighing room colleague who had similar battles to me telling me that it’s my place to be telling this story and trying to get this powerful message across to help people. This is the first time I’ve shown a dark side of the sport, but even in the dark moments of the film the love of the horse is still there. It’s great to finally be in a position to do it, even if I did take an unconventional route into filmmaking with my business partner Dave James alongside me.

This film is a part of a larger story – if I had the budget to make it this would be a scene in the larger film. I’m still writing that. It’s been a soul-searching journey and it’s been hard bringing back up memories of James, for example, during this process. Lots of people have opened up to me during this process about their struggles, which I had no idea about.

We have lots on the horizon – a really exciting behind-the-scenes documentary series that we’ve been filming for the last 18 months or so. I can’t wait to get that out there and I hope racing will be proud of what we’re putting together. Things are really starting to take a turn after an awful 2020.

Watch The Fall On Demand here:

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