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What Risks and Dangers Do Jockeys Face?

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When I took my grandson to the backside of the track after a race, he pointed out the small grooms with limps and asked if they used to be jockeys? The answer seemed obvious, I told him yes and then he asked why so many get hurt? This question made me think about the risks and dangers these athletes face.

The most significant risk for a jockey is falling from a horse while traveling at a full run, ofter over 35 MPH. The most frequent injuries from falls are head trauma, fractured limbs, and spinal injuries. Many jockeys sustain multiple fractures throughout their career.

Racing is a thrilling sport that many people enjoy watching. For the riders, however, it can be dangerous. Jockeys often risk their lives every time they race. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at what risks and dangers jockeys face while on the track.

Picture of jockeys,

Dangers Jockeys Face.

The lifestyle in the equestrian industry is very demanding. Most business days start at 4 am and generally continue until late at night. It is common for jockeys to compete in more than 1,000 races a year, typically riding hundreds of different horses.

Little is known about the state of health or the number and nature of risks and dangers suffered by jockeys in the equestrian industry. There are many risk factors for a rider weighing 115 pounds (about 52 kg) and riding a 1,100-pound animal (about 500 kg) running at 40 miles per hour (about 64 km).

The health and safety concerns associated with horse racing are numerous. Although health problems, particularly those associated with weight loss, are being increasingly identified, putting the jockeys in danger.

Because the lighter the weight, the higher are the risks to have other health problems such as concussions, gallstones, sleep problems, muscle loss, etc.

Injuries risk for jockey may lead to muscular pain or bone fractures. Jockeys are prone to many risks and dangers regarding the horse to fall and injure since the jockey may keep him from falling, but it may be hard for him to keep the horse from falling, and if the horse falls, the results are sure that jockey may injure or fracture to death.

Unlike other sports, jockeys can’t have extra safety measures, as they can’t wear pads or any other equipment to reduce injury risk because it may increase their weight. In horse riding/racing, weight plays a significant role for horse and jockey to win.

Keeping care of the weight also leads to higher risk and danger as the jockey gets weaker, and his bones and muscles lose strength, which may lead to severe problems in life.

Jockeys are also facing the common dangers associated with being around horses. Horses are unpredictable; especially racehorses are often fed high-energy diets that keep them on edge. I’ve known jockeys kicked, bitten, and walked over by horses.

What is the Most Common Injury for Jockeys?

The balance between horse and rider on a race track must be perfect. There is a great variety of sports modalities for a jockey, each with its peculiarities in terms of physical preparation, jockey and horse training, equipment, etc. And consequently, there are recurrent injuries.

In horse riding, both the rider and the horse can be injured. However, my focus is on the most common injuries for jockeys, including head trauma, fractured limbs, and spinal injuries.

The most significant risk of injury is from a fall or accident as a jockey. Racehorses are usually poorly tamed and less than five years old. On race day, these young animals are paraded in front of many people and noise and understandably get anxious.

Jockeys mount these nervous horses, often for the first time, while the horse is a nervous wreck. Sometimes a horse will begin to buck or bolt before a race starts. It is not unusual to see at least one jockey hit the ground on race day.

Falls can be spectacular because of the speed and proximity of other horses on the track. The most common injuries are fractured ribs, clavicles, tibia, fibula, and vertebrae.

In many cases, fingers of the hand are fractured, or displacements in the shoulder joint also happen when the jockey attempts to grip on to the reins when he tumbles.

It is inevitable to fall from the horse at some point or another. However, we can prevent the injuries that the fall can cause by wearing suitable equipment, such as a helmet.

What Long-term Problems do Jockeys Develop? (do they have bad knees?)

Various muscles move and are toned when riding horses, such as abdominals, buttocks, and back muscles. It must be considered in horseback riding because some muscles develop a lot, while the opposing muscles are not worked and therefore do not develop.

And this results in unbalanced muscles, lingering to chronic back disorders, and consequential complications in joint blockages in the spine. Another common problem with jockeys is that they do develop bad knees. Jockeys ride in a “monkey crouch” position with their knees high.

This part of the jockey’s legs is the one that can hurt the most when riding because the position in a fold adjacent to the body of the animal causes the tendons to suffer. Look at the general shape of some jockey’s legs, and you will notice they often seemed bowed out.

Picture of a jockey riding a race horse

How Frequently do Jockeys Fall off Horses?

The horse is an animal with unpredictable responses to any circumstance, which can cause the jockeys to fall from a considerable height, in most cases of more than one and a half meters, and in motion, with which the result is harmful to the jockey.

Although the frequency of falls can’t be determined accurately yet, fortunately, we have reported data with which we can estimate in this regard.

Internationally, reported Jockey falls are significantly less than the extensive ride time on the track. On average, a jockey falls 3 to 4 times per every 1000 racing rides.   

Do Many Jockeys Die from Racing?

To me, if one jockey dies in a race I consider it to be too many. But that’s not reality. The Jockey Club released the percentage of Jockey deaths at 1.41 per 1,000 races for 2020 the lowest since they began keeping records. The number of deaths at its peak was in 2009, 2 per 1,000 races.

There is no jockey who is afraid of death though there are fatal injuries and some that put a full stop to their career, which is frightening for a professional jockey. But the worst thing for a jockey is to ride scared because they are sure to get injured.

The Jockey Club keeps a record of deaths per start each year, in 2019 it was 1.53 per 1,000.

There is no weight in the statement that there are many fatalities in the jockey’s profession since a few die on the racing track, but often they get injuries.   

Wrap-Up

The dangers that jockeys face result from the risks they take to do what they love and win races. A jockey’s job is to ride horses in horse racing competitions, and the profession involves danger and a high risk of injury.

However, they must ride fearlessly to be successful because a jockeys’ riding ability is an integral factor in determining the race’s outcome. Jockeys control their horses with a combination of balance and muscle power but must maintain low body weight while being strong enough to handle their horse at high speeds during races or training sessions.