Over the past 12 years, concussion suffered by amateur jockeys racing in point-to-point meetings has more than halved, according to research by a leading doctor.
The findings have been collated by the regulatory body of Irish horse racing, the Turf Club, and its senior medical officer, Adrian McGoldrick.
Seven concussions were suffered by amateur jockeys for the 2016/2017 season, compared to 15 in 2005, while recordable injuries have also fallen dramatically, from 121 in the same, 2005/2006 season to 41 this year.
Two jockeys suffered structural brain injury last season, compared to none for 10 seasons, until 2014/2015, when one occurred.
Dr McGoldrick said: “Yes, it was unfortunate that two jockeys suffered brain injuries this past season, but, thankfully, both are recovering well.”
One of the two jockeys was teenager Shane Prendergast, who suffered his injuries at a point-to-point race meeting in Co Tipperary last June. Mr Prendergast was placed in an induced coma, after suffering head and back injuries, when his mount, Jack The Snake, slipped in the last race at Ballingarry.
A son of Carlow trainer Luke Prendergast, the 19-year-old was completing his first full season, when his mount came down on a bend on the final circuit at the Co Tipperary venue. He was diagnosed with bruising on his brain and fractures to his T6 and T7 vertebrae.
Dr McGoldrick said there are a lot of reasons why the numbers of injuries are down, but he believed some of it is due to new rules in the wearing of helmets and protocols around the treating of concussion.
“The number of horses running in point-to-points is also down, from a high of 11,620 in the 2008/2009 season to just over half of that, at 5,609, in the past season, despite there being more race meetings, which have now reached 113,” said Dr McGoldrick.
“So one could surmise that, as well as fewer injuries, there are significantly less horses running, the quality of horses has probably improved, and jockeys getting rides would be more experienced.”
The collarbone is the most common fracture that jockeys experience, according to the research, followed by the thoracic spine, upper arm, elbow, forearm, wrist, and ribs.
Soft-tissue damage was mainly experienced in the head, face, and neck by jockeys, followed by shoulder, upper arm, and hand.
Dr McGoldrick added that there is no real psychological evidence regarding sports concussion that would back a minimum stand-down period.
”Currently, the stand-down period is based on clinical diagnoses, on impairment. The recovery phase [after concussion] and rest have been the cornerstone of this type of management.
“However, we now reckon that this actually slows down recovery and that a supervised exercise programme speeds up recovery from concussion, according to a ‘Concussion in Practice’ conference on sports injury in Germany recently.”
He said he continues to be concerned about the variation in quality of medical services available at point-to-point meetings.