This UK Study Aims to Elevate Equine Race Riders’ Careers

LEXINGTON, Ky. – University of Kentucky’s Sports Medicine Research Institute (SMRI) is currently studying the race rider population in their Race Riders Professions Study. The goal is to learn more about the population with an aim to help elevate their careers and rehabilitate them after an injury to sustain them throughout their profession. The study is part of SMRI’s Jockey Equestrian Initiative that has a mission to “optimize health, wellness, and performance for the equestrian athlete through research.”

When jockeys, exercise riders, and novice riders take part in the voluntary study, there are nine assessments they go through, from body composition to reaction time to a self-reported injury survey, to name a few. The entire process takes two and a half to three hours to complete.

“The difference and the big unique factor as to what we’re doing is we’re really taking a more holistic approach when we look at the rider,” said Dr. Nick Heebner, Director of UK’s SMRI.

“We’re not just looking at their mechanics, whether it’s with [a] camera system or other sorts of motion system, but we’re also looking at their strength, mobility, balance, and really developed a protocol around this to look at all the different aspects of performance and function. That each piece is also tailored to what they need to do on the horse, and that’s really the unique factor and aspect of this study,” Dr. Heebner said.

The data will be grouped together to create a profile that provides a baseline of performance for each rider group, from elite jockeys to novices. To protect identity and because the industry is competitive, individual data will be kept confidential. However, the grouped data will provide feedback on how riders can elevate their own performance to the next level.

“I think that’s one of the really exciting parts of this study. Is that we would be able to inform riders that want to enter the profession and work to a specific level of what kind of training programs they would need to do in order to be successful,” Principal Investigator of the study, Dr. Kimberly Tumlin, said. She added that the industry has already done this successfully behind-the-scenes. However, she said, looking at the entire performance of a rider, it’s not known from a research perspective what a rider needs.

The second aim of the study is to help rehabilitate riders. The rider profiles will allow SMRI to provide better feedback of where someone needs to be after an injury.

“So if somebody does take a fall off a horse or gets hurt just training, we then have a good profile on how to get them back. So when they are coming in post injury, we have the opportunity to then pick out what deficits they still might have after that injury, and then focus on those and get them back to riding where they were,” explained Dr. Heebner.

While the study is just focused on riders, it could also have another effect.

“The riders have informed us that they feel like if their performance is at a high level, they are able to help the horse’s welfare,” Dr. Tumlin told Spectrum News 1.

The study came about because of SMRI’s engagement with the racing community.

“They are really seeking answers to maintain both the human athletes’ welfare but also the horse athlete,” Dr. Tumlin said. “It is a dynamic that they’re looking at, at both pieces, and our study that we’re able to provide is that human side.”

The study is ongoing until it reaches the goal of 60 participants. If you’re a rider and interested to participate in the study, contact Research Administrative Coordinator Michaela Keener at 859-323-9850 or email her at m.keener@uky.edu.