Jockey Issues Aired at International Seminar

On the second and final day of the 2013 International Conference on the Health, Safety and Welfare of Jockeys Sept. 14 at Monmouth Park, representatives from a half dozen racing jurisdictions discussed prohibited substances and testing procedure, nutritional, physical, and mental health during racing careers and in retirement, and the frequency of rider injury on synthetic surfaces.

Though the session on prohibited substances was closed to everyone but racing regulators, an open discussion followed in which representatives from Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Australia shared jurisdictional practices for testing jockeys.

In Ireland,  jockeys can be expected to be tested at least once a year; in the United Kingdom, random, unannounced tests are conducted regularly on race day, and all jockeys riding that day can expect to have their breath or urine tested. Dr. Michael Turner, the chief medical adviser to the British Horse Racing Authority, estimated that approximately 1,200 such tests are conducted annually.

As on the opening day of the conference Sept. 13, nutrition and exercise were major presentations. This year, Ireland has begun working with all apprentice jockeys, collecting baseline data on nutrition, eating habits, and exercise regimens. Gillian O'Loughlin, a qualified sports dietitian working with Ireland's Racing Academy and Centre of Education, is using the data in the hope of establishing healthful habits early in jockey careers that will reduce the deleterious effects of dehydration, poor nutrition, and weight reduction. 

In Hong Kong, John O'Reilly, a PhD candidate at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has been conducting research with jockeys on race days and in the laboratory to determine their dehydration levels and bone density. He has so far found that the jockeys in his study have a high level of aerobic fitness but below normal bone strength, particularly in their lower limbs, and that jockeys nutrition is well below recommended levels. In addition, he found low levels of hydration on race day can impair jockeys' decision-making during a race. His initial findings suggest that small steps such as improving exercise habits, nutrition, and hydration practices can improve longterm health. 
To facilitate such improvement, Sarah-Jane Cullen of Dublin City University in Ireland is working on developing a smart phone app so that jockeys can easily access nutrition and exercise information. 

In response to concerns raised by jockeys in previous conferences, Australia and the United Kingdom undertook preliminary research to determine whether riders sustain more frequent and more severe injuries when riding on artificial surfaces.  Both the U.K.'s Turner and Australia's Kevin Ring, president, secretary/treasurer, and general manager of the Tasmanian Jockeys Association, acknowledged that further research needs to be done. But they found that contrary to anecdotal impressions, jockeys in fact fall less frequently and suffer less severe injuries on all-weather surfaces than they do on turf.

In particular, said Turner, jockeys suffer fewer concussions and fractures in spills on synthetic surfaces.

Ring noted the difficulty of getting complete data, both contemporary and historical, on jockey injuries in Australia, and Turner acknowledged that his sample size is too small to be statistically significant, adding that he did find the results of his research meaningful enough to publish. 

Both men also said that proper care and management of synthetic surfaces is essential to reducing injuries on it. 

While international speakers made up the majority of the presentations over the two days, Jockeys Guild regional manager Jeff Johnston reported on the work of his organization, stressing nutrition concerns and particularly jockeys' options at the racetrack. He observed that many backside track kitchens don't offer nutritional or healthful options, a situation that he and the Guild would like to see changed.

He also said that the Guild is monitoring closely the regulation of shock wave therapy on horses following the passing of an ARCI model rule last summer, and that the organization is working with several manufacturers on the development of new safety vests for riders. 

Among the Guild's goals, said Johnston, is for more racetracks to use the The Jockey Club's Jockey Health Information System, a database that stores jockey medical records so that they are available to medical personnel wherever a jockey is riding. He also suggested that more riders need to use the Jockey Injury Database, which stores information about jockey injuries that can be analyzed at a later date. 

Johnston said that so far, data for only 115 injury incidents have been received, and he suggested considering making participation in the databases a requirement of licensing.  

Other topics discussed on Saturday included the development of improved safety equipment for jockeys, such as helmets and goggles, and updates from jockey organizations in Germany, France, and South America. 

The next conference is expected to take place in two years in Hong Kong.