Catastrophic Equine Injuries’ Impact on Jockey Injuries

Any rider that’s ever hit the ground knows that horseback riding can be unforgiving. But imagine your mount, running just feet in front of another horse, falling out from underneath you at upwards of 30 miles per hour. That’s the reality jockeys face on a daily basis.

While many races go off without a hitch, others don’t. Over a six-year span California flat racing jockeys fell 601 times and sustained 325 injuries. Researchers believe that if we can reduce the prevalence of equine injuries and sudden deaths, we can lower jockeys’ injury rates as well.

Recently, Peta Hitchens, BAppSc(Equine), MVPHMgt, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), School of Veterinary Medicine—in collaboration with Susan Stover, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, of the UC Davis J.D. Wheat Veterinary Orthopedic Research, and Ashley Hill, DVM, MPVM, PhD, of the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System—reviewed the documented falls and recorded injuries referenced above. The study was conducted in concert with California Horse Racing Board’s Racing Safety Program.

Results revealed that jockeys who rode a horse that died during a race had a significantly higher likelihood of sustaining an injury. “This is because these incidents typically involve the horse collapsing to the track, and once this occurs there is a chance of (jockeys) being crushed or struck by their horse, or others following,” she explained.

Additionally, the team determined, jockey falls occurred more often when Thoroughbreds sustained fetlock injuries and when Quarter Horses experienced carpal, metacarpal, and fetlock injuries, as these were most prevalent. “Thoroughbred fetlock injuries consisted of 52% of total race-related Thoroughbred fatalities. Quarter Horse carpal, metacarpal, and fetlock injuries made up 62% of total race-related Quarter Horse fatalities,” Hitchens explained.

So how can racing become safer for jockeys? Hitchens said preventing the most common catastrophic injuries and sudden death could be most effective at decreasing rates of falls and injuries to jockeys during racing. “We know that pre-existing pathologic conditions commonly precede racehorse catastrophic injury; thus, opportunities to detect these conditions should be pursued,” she added.

Unfortunately, it’s not yet that simple. “There is still a lot we do not yet understand,” Hitchens said. “My recommendation is for further research into factors that can be modified, for example, training regimes, medication administration, and management of lameness.”

The study, “The role of catastrophic injury or sudden death of the horse in race-day jockey falls and injuries in California, 2007-2012,” was published in the Equine Veterinary Journal.