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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Kentucky: Studying the ‘Two-Legged Equine Athlete’ Can Help Make Racing Safer for All

A new research initiative led by University of Kentucky College of Public Health researcher Dr. Kimberly I. Tumlin is looking closely at jockey performance – and the work has implications not only for the jockeys themselves, but also for the thoroughbreds they ride.

The UK Sports Medicine Research Institute (SMRI) Jockey and Equestrian Initiative (JEI) launched in 2018 following a pilot study that sought to implement protocols for baseline concussion testing in jockeys. Now, the JEI is expanding to include a more holistic assessment of a jockey’s health through a wide range of performance testing, including body composition, flexibility, reaction time, leg and grip strength, and balance.

After testing the individual elements of their performance, the jockeys are covered with tiny electrodes and hop up on Charlie, the SMRI’s famous mechanical horse. Once they get their bearings – Charlie feels surprisingly similar to the real thing, they say – they participate in a two-minute simulation of racing in the Breeder’s Cup. Next to the horse, a small screen shows instant feedback on the ride, like how the rider shifts their weight or pulls the reins.

The goal, says Dr. Tumlin, is to get a baseline assessment for ideal jockey performance.

“If we better understand what it takes to be a professional jockey from performance and risk factor perspectives, we can help the novice riders achieve a higher level of performance,” said Dr. Tumlin, an assistant professor of preventive medicine and environmental health in the UK College of Public Health.

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