If you are going to or watching the Grand National, spare a thought for the jockeys and horses who are literally risking their lives. In the blink of an eye, lives can be turned upside down in this sport whose protagonists are constantly followed by an ambulance – a grim reminder of the threat of severe injury, potential paralysis and worse.
1 in 7 rides run the risk of a fall and an injury every 1:42 rides ( The Jockey Club) with head injuries being more prevalent than spinal injuries – around a 5:1 ratio. And jump racing has significantly higher injury rates than flat racing, particularly in relation to upper limb and concussion. It’s no surprise that the Jockey Club has spent millions in helping thousands of jockeys whose injuries have forced some of them to give up riding.
And there’s more...
Most racehorses weigh 450–550 kg. They are capable of reaching speeds of over 40 mph when travelling downhill on the flat. In addition to propelling a jockey on to the ground from a saddle height of about two metres, horses can inflict injuries by biting, pulling, kicking, trampling, standing or rolling on the rider, and hitting the rider with a sudden movement of the head.
When head injuries are considered, a fall of 3 metres is usual, being the distance between the rider’s head and the ground. Jockeys are at risk from the moment they come into contact with the horse (before mounting the horse in the paddock) until after they have dismounted and moved out of reach of the horse.
About 30% of injuries occur in the paddock, before the start, in the stalls, or after the finish of a race.
There are far more lumbar and thoracic injuries to the spine than cervical, most likely due to a fall on the buttocks or being thrown against obstacles.
In all other sports where the head leads it is almost inevitable that the cervical spine, which is more vulnerable, will be fractured rather than the lumbar or thoracic spine - such as in rugby.
The Injured Jockey’s Fund is there to assist injured jockeys. It provides a multi disciplinary team approach to rehabilitation along with respite care for jockeys and families. Financial help is also available, and care provided for the whole range of injuries this sport sees. Proactive and cutting edge approaches are adopted to ensure best outcomes. For example, they purchased the first ever fall simulator, or Equichute, in Europe, to teach jockeys how to fall as safely as possible in a controlled environment.
No wonder Jenny Jones, Olympic snowboarder bronze medallist, went there for vestibular (to improve balance) rehabilitation following a concussion accident.
So in summary….
Horse racing is undoubtedly a dangerous sport, both on the horse and off. The work of The Jockey Club and Injured Jockey Fund, via its state of the art rehabilitation centre is second to none in its work to look at injury causation, prevention, research and rehabilitation of injured jockeys. Currently helping over 400 jockeys, the Injured Jockeys Fund celebrates its 50th anniversary this year – so if you are a race goer, watch out for, and give your support, to the multitude of events across the country, including a variety of different racecourses doing anniversary race days.