Having just read my usual internet stuff, I was terribly saddened to see that a fellow I knew in passing, jockey Rene Douglas, was involved in a horrible spill (accident) at Arlington Park late yesterday. 

Overall, we don’t usually see just blatant jockey errors made.  However, a fellow rider screwed up, took his horse off the rail, bumped Rene’s mare hard, and when she was moved out, she clipped heels with a horse in front of her that was tiring.  She went down head over heels, and threw Rene on the track, and rocked over in her fall and landed right on top of him, she was unconscious.  It took the track workers a few minutes to haul her off the top of him.  He is alive, but broken up in a bad way.  He was in surgery for 7 hours, and while he could feel his legs and move prior to surgery, he apparently can’t now.  There is grave concern for his spinal cord, which was pierced by a bone fragment.  They worked to stabilize his neck and spine, and won’t know how this will work out for him for 10 to 14 days, when the swelling will go down.  Jockeys are the fittest athletes in sports.  Jockeys are well aware of the risk involved with piloting 1200 lbs of energy down the track.  Each time you go out to ride, you know it could be the last thing you do.  However, there is something so amazing about sitting atop a Thoroughbred, it is the biggest rush you can imagine.  At top speed you can’t hear your fellow riders unless you yell loudly, the sounds of the horses breathing, the hoofbeats, even the pop and slap of the reins and saddles creaking add to the din.  Riders study prior races of the horses they are named on to ride, they study the Racing Form to see how they were ridden in the past races, thinking how to improve the horses performance that day.  We all know that wrecks, spills, accidents are always just around the corner, and we work hard to be prepared and professional when on the track at all times, be it in the morning galloping for a trainer – to gain favor and hopefully the mount when the horse is entered in a race, or helping new riders, learning from the riders who have been around a long time.  I was really intent on training, but I had the best riders in the world helping me out, giving me tips on how to teach a horse this or that.  Most riders ride until their bodies give out, then they have to find a new occupation.  Not an easy thing.  The transition from rider to trainer is a leap most don’t care to do……when you ride races, the horses are bringing all they have to the gate in that two minutes.  Training involves a totally different mindset, time is taken to ensure the horses physical capabilities are solid, that his emotional state is trained to knowing what race day is – what to expect, how to act, when he can run.  Some retired riders become TV commentators.  Some work publicity.  I know several who became race track stewards.  But it is never the same.  My heart aches for Rene, who woke up yesterday morning as one of the top riders in the US, and when he woke up from surgery today, he has a new job. To heal, to live to still be part of his wife’s and children’s world, in a totally different capacity.  The doctors think he may have lost the ability to use his legs for good.  For a rider, the emotional impact will never soften.  He has his life though, and his family and I pray that he comes through this better than is predicted.  Sadly, the mare “Born to Be” was euthanized this morning, still unable to rise, damage to her spine as well.  Godspeed Born to Be, and may Rene recover in the best condition he is able.

I never take a day for granted, I have seen too many wrecks, horses, people, automobiles and even planes to do that.  Each and every day I wake up and am able to move to see the sunrise I give thanks.

Enjoy the rest of the day, I have to run to town for kitten milk replacer – I am fostering some kittens for the shelter, with a mom cat, but they need more milk………  They will reimburse me for the formula, it is worth it to see the kittens do well……..but that will be another blog entry !

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