‘How long until I can ride again?’

Have you ever had an impossible dream in childhood or your teens? Mine – much to my parents’ horror – was to become a jockey.

The bond between horse and jockey is strong: Davy Russell with Sir Des Champs
The bond between horse and jockey is unbreakable: Davy Russell with Sir Des Champs

And – if I’d had the aptitude to pursue thisI would’ve had injuries far worse than a broken metatarsal, all in a days’ work.

When I interviewed one of my role models,  the then champion National Hunt woman jockey Diane Clay for BBC Radio Stoke in the 1990s, she catelogued an impressive number of injuries.

Maybe it was self-preservation that stopped me remembering them all – but a split kidney definitely figured in the equation.

So, with the Grand National looming, I thought I’d start looking at how jockeys handle the “occupational hazard” of serious injury.

The thrill is addictive
The thrill is addictive

Well, first and foremost, they go about their everyday business as if they’re the people who won’t get hurt.

Nineteen-time champion Tony McCoy – who plans to make the coming Aintree event his last – says: “It’s a dangerous sport. We are fully aware of that and all think it’s not going to happen to us. If you didn’t think like that, you wouldn’t do it.”

In my crazy little fantasy world, I can relate to that – the only time I actually rode a thoroughbred resulted in the mare rearing up and throwing me.

Tony McCoy is no stranger to injury
Tony McCoy is no stranger to injury

My boss was horrified when I recounted the experience and told me: “Emma, people get killed doing that”.

No bones were broken then – and feeling suitably heroic – I regarded myself as one of those whose lives would be spared.

McCoy and his colleagues are braver – but far less foolhardy – then I.

The bond between jockey and horse is, it would appear, too strong to keep these people on the sidelines for long if they have any choice in the matter.

One jockey emphasises: “The first question you usually ask the doctor is ‘how long ’til I can ride again?’ I think that shows how much we all love it.”

Jockey - Hayley Turner
Fan-mail goes to ‘Hayley Turner – Hospitalised somewhere in Cambridgeshire’

Another adds: “We all have broken bones, and behind every scar there’s a story”.

So – denial or acceptance? Looks like a strange combination of the two works for most jockeys.

The thrill of bowling along at around 35mph would appear to be matchless.

But statistics from 2011 showed jump jockeys hit the deck an average of one in every 16 rides.

Aldaniti overcame injury to win the 1981 'National under cancer survivor Bob Champion
Aldaniti overcame injury to win the 1981 ‘National under cancer survivor Bob Champion

And an eight-year study conducted in the 1990s showed amateur riders in the jumping game were 35 times more likely to be concussed than a footballer.

Flat race jockeys too, are philosophical.
And injury is no respecter of gender.
Leading jockey Hayley Turner says: “I do the same as the lads and get injured the same.”

When things don’t go to plan, the Injured Jockeys Fund is there to help.

Back in the saddle: rehabilitation at Oaksey House
Back in the saddle: rehabilitation at Oaksey House

It was funded in 1964, inspired in part by the late Paddy Farrell, who was paralysed in a fall in the Grand National.

Its first rehabiliation centre, Oaksey House, opened in Lambourn in 2006.

Former champion jockey John Francome says: “They’ve got up-to-the-minute technology there, but they’ve also got the right people running it, who realise that these jockeys don’t want to sit down and do nothing – they want to get back riding, and get back being active.”

To find out more about the Injured Jockeys Fund – check out their website: http://www.injuredjockeys.co.uk/

And here’s a fab video about why there’s a need for the fund in the first place:http://www.injuredjockeys.co.uk/

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