11 May 2012

Paramedics at the Racecourse

In an age of health and safety regulations one may think that horse racing would not be one of the more dangerous sports. But this would be an inaccurate statement. Every time a jockey rides a horse, especially in a jump race, they know there is a chance they could sustain a serious injury.

Last year for example, 22-year-old jockey Peter Toole fell at the first fence at Aintree on Grand National day while riding 100-1 outsider Classic Fly. He sustained serious injuries including bleeding on the right side of his brain and had to be put into a medically-induced coma. 

Just three days later amateur jockey Richard Hawkins was knocked out when he fell off Tiger Dream in a handicap hurdle at Taunton. Like Toole, he also had to be treated in intensive care before making a full recovery.The same year young amateur jockey Willie Twiston-Davies broke his leg in an unlikely fall and had to be taken quickly to Warwick hospital for an operation. Despite the severity of their falls, not one of Twiston-Davies, Toole and Hawkins suffered career-ending injuries.

These stories may have not had such successful endings had it not been for a group of people who seem to go rather unnoticed at a racecourse. This is despite being crucial in helping keep jockeys safe, especially in the event of a fall.

There are always plenty of paramedics scattered around the stands, the grounds and the jockeys’ weighing room on race day and they have more incidents to deal with than people expect. At Uttoxeter racecourse two weeks ago one paramedic said that: “We (paramedics) have had to work with jockeys regularly in the past on race days.” He also said that the most common injuries sustained by jockeys are to the spinal area or the shoulders. This is usually caused by falling backwards off racehorses of which some can travel at over 40 miles per hour.

Another medic said that doctors “work closely with the vets” who also attend race day to look after the horses. They also play a crucial role as horses are injured even more often than the jockeys as a result of their falls. This was shown last month when five horses died at the Cheltenham Festival and a further two at the Grand National.

The medic also said that: “An ambulance and a doctor always follow the horses around the track”.

But it is not just jockeys that paramedics attend racecourses in order to deal with; they also have to help injured spectators. Injuries happen to spectators surprisingly often at a racecourse, and usually from relatively mundane incidents. Although strange things can happen, for example a horse jumped into the crowd, injuring seven people during a Steeplechase in Victoria, Australia.

But at Uttoxeter races a St John’s Ambulance paramedic said that the majority of accidents involving spectators at racecourses are ‘drink-related’. He said he has had to attend to a couple of freak accidents: “There was an incident last year when someone took strong medication, passed out and caused themselves a head injury.
They were knocked out and we had to take them to the nearest hospital.”

He added that at a racecourse such as Uttoxeter fewer accidents occur than at higher-attended meetings such as Cheltenham or Ascot. He said that: “Uttoxeter is not usually very packed, and normally not many people come here.” As paramedics are still kept busy at a small meeting like this, then that shows how important they can be. 

Watch horse jump into crowd at Steeplechase Meeting Victoria:

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