HISA, Guild outline jockey wellness initiatives during symposium

By: Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority

Posted: Aug. 10, 2023

At a recent symposium held in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority announced new initiatives to support the overall wellness of jockeys and riders nationwide. As part of these efforts, HISA announced a partnership with the Jockeys’ Guild to create a steering committee that will recommend and help implement programming to support jockey mental wellness.

“As Thoroughbred racing’s national safety regulator, HISA is deeply committed to safeguarding the mental and physical wellbeing of jockeys and riders across the country,” HISA Chief Executive Officer Lisa Lazarus said. “We owe it to these athletes, who dedicate so much of their time and talent to racing, to do everything we can to support them—including by mitigating mental stress factors as well as the risk of injury and chronic health issues.”

The steering committee will be co-chaired by Earle Mack and Dr. Yuval Neria. Data recently collected by a HISA and Jockeys’ Guild-commissioned survey, as well as other independent research, will be used to develop specific guidelines to better support and protect rider mental wellness.

Mack, a businessman, philanthropist and former United States Ambassador to Finland, has six decades of experience in Thoroughbred racing as a lifelong owner and breeder and is a member of The Jockey Club. Neria is a professor of clinical medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and Director of Trauma and PTSD at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

“We salute HISA and the Jockeys’ Guild for initiating this very important dialogue regarding the mental health and welfare of our beloved jockeys,” Mack said. “Despite my decades of experience in the industry, I was not fully aware of the mental health challenges our professional riders experience until today. Raising awareness is critical, but taking concrete steps to seek out and implement effective solutions for our riders’ mental health concerns is imperative—not tomorrow, but today. Jockeys give their all to our horses every time they step on to the track. Let’s afford them the care they deserve in return.”

“Jockeys in the exhilarating and sometimes dangerous sport of horse racing are repeatedly exposed to stress and trauma,” Neria said. “Physical injuries and concussions, coupled with hunger and lack of nutrients associated with weight management, place the rider at high risk for severe mental health problems, including depression, PTSD and addictions.”

Neria suggested that the industry work toward establishing a national evaluation and treatment center that can comprehensively address these very real and concerning issues.

The symposium was the second gathering of industry leaders hosted by HISA and the Jockeys’ Guild to address jockey wellness. During the first meeting, held at Keeneland in May, the results of the jockey survey were reviewed. In addition to Lazarus, symposium attendees in Saratoga heard from Jockeys’ Guild President and CEO Terry Meyocks, HISA National Medical Director Dr. Peter Hester, Racetrack Chaplaincy Executive Director Dan Waits and the keynote speaker, retired NFL player Randy Grimes.

Donna Brothers, NBC Sports reporter and retired jockey, hosted the event. An important and sometimes raw panel discussion included retired Hall of Fame jockey Eurico Rosa Da Silva, jockey Trevor McCarthy, FOX Sports analyst and retired jockey Richard Migliore, FOX Sports analyst and champion horseplayer Jonathon Kinchen, and Neria.

“The Jockeys’ Guild appreciates all of the input and interest by industry participants to address jockeys’ mental health and wellness,”  Meyocks said. “The Guild has long advocated for the industry to recognize the stress and everyday challenges jockeys face. The Guild looks forward to partnering with HISA in the formation of the steering committee to develop recommendations and programs which will demonstrate that we as an industry are able to support not only the jockeys but their family members as well and eventually all others in our industry.”

At the symposium, HISA also announced two important new partnerships that will allow HISA, racetracks and physicians to more effectively keep riders safe and healthy. HISA will work with HEADCHECK Health, a digital concussion protocol management platform, to allow racetrack personnel to use data-driven insights to improve the care they provide riders with a suspected concussion. Through the HEADCHECK platform, riders will gain access to a new, secure system to store their medical records, which will be easily available to physicians in an emergency.

(The HEADCHECK system began working with the racing industry two years ago in Maryland and Delaware and has expanded to Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races and Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course. The Maryland Horsemen’s Health System, a partnership with MedStar Health, was instrumental in working with HEADCHECK at the outset.)

“We’re very excited to be working with an innovative group like HISA,” said Harrison Brown, co-founder and CEO of HEADCHECK Health. “Our technology and reporting will ensure racetracks are able to consistently advance their jockey health standards and prevent mismanaged concussions.”

HISA also announced a partnership with NovaCare Rehabilitation, a nationwide physical therapy network with nearly 2,000 outpatient physical therapy centers and more than 7,000 licensed therapists. NovaCare will provide jockeys with routine physicals and baseline concussion examinations at a discounted price nationwide.

“We are excited to provide convenient and affordable nationwide access for jockey’s to receive annual physical and concussion screenings,” said Matt Ries, an occupational therapist and certified hand therapist with NovaCare in Philadelphia.