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As horseracing sees resurgence, UK researches jockey safety

Researchers from UK’s College of Health Sciences, College of Public Health and the Sports Medicine Research Institute are conducting research to promote safety in jockeys.

The Equestrian Athlete Initiative (EqA), based out of the University of Kentucky’s Sports Medicine Research Institute, wants to optimize health, wellness and performance for the equestrian athlete through research.

This spring, EqA collaborated with Keeneland Racing to conduct a research project promoting safety in jockeys. As elite athletes, experts say jockeys sustain exceptionally high levels of athletic performance during each race meet — sometimes riding in five or more races a day.

In addition, many jockeys work horses in the early mornings for trainers, prior to going to the races — and many of the jockeys who ride at Keeneland are piloting horses during Derby week. Their physical positioning is unique and requires a steady lower body, while they move their hands and arms to guide the horse.

The focus of the project is to better understand the protective factors and strategies (like strength training and deeper positioning) that jockeys have employed to offset their complicated work arrangements (like frequent travel, multiple mounts, weather conditions and perceived fatigue).

With Keeneland, the EqA is working to promote a culture of racing safety protecting both horse and rider. With this in mind, outriders — riders on the track that catch loose horses — have non-standard and long workdays during a race meet compared to non-meet conditions.

There are only four outriders in total as full-time Keeneland employees and during a meet they work seven days a week with varying shifts that can last 14 hours. All seven workdays, they spend a majority of their day in the saddle.

As a legislatively supported initiative, EqA is funded by the state, and this year the project also received a pilot grant from the Central Appalachia Regional Education Research Center (CARERC).

“We are delighted to support the research of investigators such as Ms. Michaela Keener, of UK’s College of Health Sciences, and Dr. Kimberly Tumlin, of UK’s College of Public Health,” said Dr. Wayne Sanderson, CARERC Director. “Our Pilot Research Program provides for studies of health and safety concerns in a wide variety of industries, but this study is our first to assess jockey and outrider concerns in this important Kentucky industry.”

For this study, Keener and Tumlin hypothesize:

1)    that functional stability will be enhanced in post-race work for jockeys with deeper and more compact racing positioning and fewer complicating work factors, and

2)    that functional stability will be decreased in outriders during race meets compared to non-race meet conditions.

Lifestyle factors including travel and other horse riding are collected in addition to recent concussion and horse-related falls.

“By combining sports medicine and public health principles to explain jockeys’ strategies in response to potential effects from lifestyle or concussion history, we can support a research-to-practice model in promoting both rider and horse safety,” Tumlin said.