More than anyone else in the horse racing industry, jockeys put themselves in extreme danger each and every time they take part in a race. They are climbing on top of animals that weigh between 470 and 515 kilograms, which could land on them at any moment if they were to get their timing of a job wrong, say, or were to fail to pay attention to where they were racing. They can be kicked by a horse, for example, or simply fall from the height of the horse onto hard ground, which could well result in an injury or two to them.
As a result of this, it is vitally important that jockeys are given as much protection as possible. There is certain gear that jockeys needs to wear in order to be as safe as they can be during races. What equipment it is that is compulsory will depend upon the age of the jockey and the event that they are entering. Regardless, modern garments have been made to be much more flexible and lightweight than ever before, so there is no reason why a jockey would feel restricted or trapped by what it is that they are wearing whilst riding.
What Is Required?
Since The start of October 2018, jockeys have been required to wear a Level 2 body protector. These were brought in to replace the Level 1 protectors that had been required before then but that weren’t up to the job of actively protecting the jockeys. Indeed, the Level 2 body protectors offer as much as 50% more protection than the Level 1 protectors could manage, thereby better protecting jockeys from direct blows such a kick from a horse. Some jockeys were already using Level 2 protectors, but the rule change meant that all of them had to.
Ruby Walsh said at the time,
“From taking heavy-enough falls riding in chases to horses landing on you, standing on you, kicking you, I find the Level 2 provides way more protection.”
It was a thought that Aidan Coleman agreed with, having already worn such equipment in Ireland. When he returned to England to race, he ordered Level 2 protectors in order to feel safer. The protectors were endorsed by Dr Adrian McGoldrick, who was the Senior Medical Officer for the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board at the time and saw no patterns of injuries emerge as a result of their usage.
The introduction of the new protector as something that jockeys had to wear, rather than just choosing to, meant that jockeys were given an increased weight allowance. The Level 1 protectors weighed between 0.4 and 0.6 pounds less than the newer versions, leading to the allowance for safety equipment increasing from two pounds to three pounds. The Chief Medical Advisor for the British Horseracing Authority, Dr Jerry Hill, was ‘delighted’ by the new level of protection that was put in place for jockeys, given that it made injuries for them much less likely.
The other piece of protective equipment that jockeys are obliged to wear when taking part in races in the United Kingdom is the helmet. These must reach the European Standard Level 1, EN13158:2000. Though they don’t protect the neck, which is one of the criticisms of them, they obviously work well to protect jockeys from injuries to the head. Such an injury can be extremely serious, which is why this is a piece of equipment that jockeys simply must wear during all race types in the UK. There are other pieces of equipment that jockeys do wear, but they don’t have to do so.
There are numerous different types of equipment that a jockey may choose to wear in order to keep themselves as protected as possible. It is not an uncommon sight for a jockey to wear goggles, for example. These can protect the eye from all sorts of possible incidents during the day, including keeping their eyes free of mud on occasions when the ground is decidedly heavy. Of course, they can also fog up and stop the jockey from being able to see out of them clearly, but this is often seen as a necessary evil for the protection that they offer.
Jockeys will often put strapping around their ankles and feet to offer at least a small bit of protection to the region. Similarly, leg sleeves will be worn in order to prevent irritation from the saddle as the legs rub against it. The vast majority of jockeys will wear gloves, which protect their hands from becoming sore as they hold the whip and the reigns. Some jockeys will choose to wear something akin to the cup that you’ll find in cricket, which is designed to protect the groin area from any sort of injury that it might otherwise sustain.
Elsewhere on the site you can read about the sorts of injuries that jockeys tend to sustain during a season, with everything from broken collar bones to shattered ribs on the list. Unfortunately, there isn’t a huge amount that can be done to avoid certain injuries, regardless of how much equipment a jockey wears. The best body protector will only be able to do so much to protect the ribs of a jockey that has fallen from the horse and been trampled on by a horse coming up behind them, after all.
Whilst that doesn’t mean that jockeys shouldn’t even bother trying to protect themselves, it does mean that there has to be an acknowledgement from the participants in races that they’re putting themselves at risk any time that they climb into the saddle. As you can see from the decision to upgrade the level of body protection worn by jockeys back in 2018, though, the industry is constantly looking for ways to ensure that its riders are as protected as possible. It is difficult to predict exactly what personal protective equipment will look like in the future, but it is fair to guess that it will be lighter and stronger where possible.