'Don't listen to them' - how jockey Aubrey overcame the cyberbullies
Jockey Aubrey McMahon beat the cyberbullies by winning the biggest horse race of his young life on the opening day of the Galway festival.
Cyberbullying almost stopped Aubrey (19) experiencing the joy of winning the €100,000 Connacht Hotel Handicap on Monday. He won on Whiskey Sour, which is owned by his dad, Luke.
Aubrey's family was emotional after the horse trained by Willie Mullins raced to victory .
This was thanks to an impressive win and also because the young man had feared he would never ride a horse again.
In September 2014, Aubrey, from Kildare, had his first winner as an amateur jockey. But two years ago, his dream of being a jockey lay in tatters. After anonymous bullying on social media, he decided to turn his back on racing.
"I don't 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," Aubrey said.
"Thankfully, I don't take on board what strangers say about me any more.
"Since the age of five or six I always wanted to be a jockey. It was always my dream. When I turned 16, I started getting a few rides in races and had my first winner at a race meeting in Galway," he added.
But, after his sixth or seventh ride as a jockey, the anonymous taunting started, much of it on Twitter. After a race in Bellewstown, Aubrey checked his 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," he said.
"I knew it wasn't anyone I knew, but it still got to me. After a few more races, I was starting to get paranoid about what was going to be on my phone."
When Aubrey found a disturbing online forum about him, it proved too much. "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," he said.
"I knew I wasn't the worst rider but I was really doubting myself. Cyberbullying definitely played a role in turning me away from racing."
One year later, at the age of 17, he put away his racing silks for what he thought would be for good. He got a job as a junior trader in Sandyford in Dublin.
"I had great prospects but horse racing was always my first love," he said.
Aubrey realised he had to change his mindset about social media and cyberbullying.
"When you are young, you can take what is said to you and about you on social media a lot more to heart and it can affect you in a big way as you are at that awkward age," he said.
Aubrey found he had the hunger for racing again and trained with Gordon Elliot for two days a week and then with Mullins as well. "Thankfully, my confidence in my ability is now back and I'm not listening to the keyboard bullies any more."