Safety and education underpin all aspects of work undertaken by the Medical Department of the British Horseracing Authority. These are co-ordinated by Dr Michael Turner, the Chief Medical Adviser.
As a result of the initiatives introduced since 1992, jockeys riding today are far more aware of the levels of fitness and the dietary regimen required for race riding. In addition, the problems of returning to action too soon after injury are now clearly appreciated by all involved in the sport.
"Owners and trainers are worried if there is the slightest thing wrong with their horse," says Michael Turner, "but the jockey is expected to turn up an hour before racing and be 100% fit, every day a week for the whole season. A horse is allowed an off-day, but not a jockey because he runs the risk of losing his livelihood."
Responsibilities of the Medical Department:
The Medical Department maintains a database on all jockeys' injuries - including those incurred off the racecourse - which forms the basis of a computerized Medical Record system. Dr Turner monitors the progress of injured jockeys to ensure that they only return to race ride once it is safe for them to do so.
Head injuries are often the most dangerous, and therefore there is a particular procedure in place for jockeys returning to race ride following concussion. Racing is the only non-team sport operating a standardized concussion management program in the world. The programme was introduced in October 2003 and has proven to be highly effective and popular.
All jockeys are required to undergo baseline neuro-psychological screening at one of the 9 Regional Centres prior to the granting of a licence. Following a concussive incident, a specialist reassesses the rider and a comparison is made of his/her repeat neuro-psychological tests against the baseline values. When these have returned to normal, the jockey is allowed to return to race riding.
Raceday medical care
The British Horseracing Authority sets the standards of medical care that each racecourse must provide on every raceday, and carries out regular 'medical inspections' of racecourses to ensure that the Instructions are being complied with.
View General Instruction 11, which sets out these standards (p200).
Drug testing of jockeys
This is co-ordinated by the Chief Medical Adviser and is carried out on behalf of the British Horseracing Authority by Concateno, the largest provider of employment based drug screening in Europe.
The emphasis is on testing jockeys for any product that is performance impairing (e.g. alcohol, cocaine and cannabis). Unlike some sports where the use of a proprietary nasal decongestant could result in a lengthy suspension, the focus is on providing a safe arena for competition in the most dangerous of all professional sports.
Any impairment of performance could not only pose a serious risk to the safety of the jockey concerned but it could also put other jockey’s lives at risk.
You can download Protocols and rules for the testing of riders for banned substances and procedures for notifiable medications, including a list of all banned substances for jockeys.
Testing days are split between breathalyser-only testing days and urine-only testing days:
Medical Standards of Fitness to Ride
- On a breathalyser testing day, all the jockeys riding at that particular meeting will be tested, and anyone failing the test twice will be stood down from riding for the day. Further disciplinary action will depend on the levels of alcohol found.
- On urine testing days, up to 12 riders are chosen by ballot and the urine is tested for performance impairing drugs as mentioned above.
The Medical Department first published Medical Guidelines for Fitness to Ride in 1993 and, after extensive international review, the current Medical Standards were issued in 2010. These apply to all jockeys, whether professional or amateur.
You can view the full Medical Standards of Fitness to Ride, published 1st August 2010.
Jockeys’ Protective Equipment
As well as monitoring jockeys’ injuries, The Chief Medical Adviser is also involved in the evaluation and equestrian use of personal protective equipment (PPE):
Racecourse Physical Therapy
- Body Protectors - After a lengthy period of consultation, a new European Standard for body protectors was published in March 2000 (EN 13158:2000). Incorporated into the standard is a category which is specifically reserved for race riding - Level One. The inclusion of this level was only achieved after extensive lobbying by the racing authorities and SATRA.
- Helmets - The existing European Standard (EN 1384:1996) is under review and an enhanced standard has been proposed by the EU. Head injuries continue to be a major concern in equestrian sport and research in this area is being undertaken by the racing authorities in Ireland, GB and France.
Approximately 30% of racecourses now employ physical therapists to work on racedays and the racing industry also funds a team of therapists who cover another 25% of racecourses.
This scheme is now administered by the Professional Jockey's Association (PJA) but founded in 1993 as the “Flying Physios” by Dr Michael Turner, Mary Bromiley and Michael Caulfield of the JAGB (as the PJA was then known).
The Jockey Club Charities initially provided 100% funding for the project and once established, the operation of the scheme was taken on by the Injured Jockeys Fund. After 13 years of charitable support, direct financial support from the industry was finally agreed in 2006.