Archived online race footage is being used to digitally re-construct the speed, velocity and impact of falls in detail as part of work to improve rider safety.
The information is being used in multiple research projects internationally to gain greater understanding of the different medical impacts of falls.
Projects may ultimately influence equipment design as well as rider coaching techniques, with the aim of making riding safer across all horse-related pursuits.
The digital race archive is managed by the British Horseracing Authority.
Projects making use of the footage are based at the University of Sydney, University College Dublin and University of Bath in England.
One of the projects, in Sydney, is being run by former Olympic gymnast and current doctoral student Lindsay Nylund, who has taught gymnasts from beginner to Olympic level about the skills to safely land when somersaulting and coming down from height.
The fall time in gymnastics from equipment such as the pommel horse is similar to that experienced in horse racing.
With the digital reconstructions which can be made from archive footage, it is possible to map how jockeys fall most frequently.
The analysis of this archive footage will be a precursor to teaching jockeys the physical and mental skills, in the event of a fall, to respond in a way that may reduce their risk of serious or catastrophic injury.
Riders in Australia from several equestrian disciplines have already been taught fall safety skills using gymnastics-based techniques.
Feedback has indicated that the skills may have saved several riders from serious injury. It is hoped that the fall safety techniques can be taught to a small trial group in Britain as a part of a future training intervention trial.
Nylund, who is leading the three-year project at the University of Sydney, said falls were the main cause of serious injury to riders and it was hoped that the findings from the research would add to the evidence-base on jockey and rider safety.
Nylund praised the BHA for supporting research initiatives around jockey and rider safety.
In research at University College Dublin, the race archive is also being used to digitally re-construct the speed, velocity and impact of falls which led to concussion.
The work complements the ongoing helmet bounty scheme being run in partnership with the British Equestrian Trade Association. The scheme allows riders across equine disciplines who are diagnosed with concussion following a fall to donate their used helmet for research in return for a voucher to buy a new one.
The helmets are being analysed as part of a European Union-funded research programme (the HEADS project) at the university, looking into the types of fall and how these relate to damage sustained by a helmet and how a rider is affected.
It is hoped that matching the damage sustained in falls in horse racing with the footage of that fall will provide greater insights which may lead to recommendations for future helmet design.
Michael Gilchrist, who is leading the doctoral project at the university, said the high quality footage from the archive of jockey falls allowed for in-depth accident reconstructions.
“This allows us to quantify the severity of forces associated with different head injury events and, ultimately, to inform the development of future helmet certification standards.”
Spinal injury prevention
The other project, at the University of Bath, is aimed at spinal injury prevention.
Researchers are digitally mapping and reconstructing falls that resulted in spinal injury.
The team behind the project recently completed a similar study regarding scrums in rugby union, which led to rules around scrummaging being changed to give greater player protection.
Professor Keith Stokes, who will be managing the research at University of Bath, said: “Spinal injuries can have a dramatic impact on peoples’ lives, and using the digital archive to inform strategies that have the potential to reduce the risk of these injuries is extremely valuable.”
The BHA’s chief medical adviser, Dr Jerry Hill, said the organisation was pleased the archive could help with potentially significant research projects such as these.
“The universities involved will now be able to map and digitally re-construct falls in much greater detail, enabling calculation of the forces involved and the effect of altering certain parameters.
“The knowledge gained from these projects could have a positive impact on the safety all those who ride horses, thoroughbred or otherwise.”
Grand National and Gold Cup-winning jockey Mick Fitzgerald said being a jockey can be the greatest feeling in the world.
“But there is always the threat of an injury and it was the aftermath of a fall which ultimately ended my career. Anything that can be done to make riding safer has to be encouraged and it will be interesting where the results of this research will lead.”