Ruby Walsh: Miracle man
Bones & Joints Irish champion jockey Ruby Walsh speaks about the many injuries he’s had in his career, and what keeps him going in spite of the risk.
Ruby Walsh is no stranger to bone and joint injuries. The nine-time leading jockey at Cheltenham and multiple Grand National winner has – like all the best jockeys – had many falls during the course of his career, leading to fractures, broken bones and dislocated shoulders.
Who would choose such a dangerous profession? “There are undoubtedly risks every time you go out,” admits Ruby. “But what keeps me going is that I love what I do – I’ve always wanted to be a jockey, since I was a young kid.”
Ruby has broken the same leg twice, suffered wrist fractures, broken arms, cracked vertebrae, a dislocated hip, a cracked elbow, dislocated shoulders – and more. Despite all this, he considers himself one of the lucky ones.
“Even though I’ve had many injuries, I’ve escaped anything really serious. I’ve only had one operation – for shoulder ligament damage.”
His worst ever injury was a dislocated right hip, he says; this occurred in 2001 at Listowel. “This was extremely painful, and kept me out for eight weeks.”
Treatments and prevention
Treatments for Ruby have mostly involved rest and taking prescribed medications, along with physiotherapy and rehab.
“Physiotherapy and rehab have been vital for my recovery – they still are for most injuries.
“Doctors even now differ on recovery plans,” Ruby says. “Medical practice has changed somewhat – it used to be that rest was seen as the main tool for recovery, but now pressure is regularly advised rather than rest.”
It can also happen, of course, that a jockey suffers an injury he is not initially aware of – this is particularly dangerous, as it is prone to get worse without recognition and treatment. Ruby once had what turned out to be a crushed T7 vertebrae, which was only diagnosed and treated four weeks after it happened.
Early diagnosis is obviously key – but once you are correctly diagnosed, patience and keeping up with your treatment regimen are the most important things, says Ruby. “Time is really the best cure, when it comes to making a full recovery.”
Ruby laughs when asked if there are any strategies he can share in terms of avoiding injury. “Don’t fall!
“But seriously, it is inevitable that falls will happen, so the best strategy is just to stay fit and strong, be in the best shape possible to minimise damage and also to enable your body to recover quicker.”
Irish Injured Jockeys
Ruby is currently chairman of Irish Injured Jockeys, which was established in 2014 in order to increase awareness and raise funds for injured jockeys. No doubt his own experience of injury helped him realise the importance of the organisation.
“Irish Injured Jockeys was set up to give support to riders at various stages of their lives when they need it. This can be in the form of tangible support when they are out due to injury, assistance in education or retraining during or after their riding career is over, or support in their lives post-riding.”
Irish Injured Jockeys is totally funded by donations and fundraising from within the horseracing industry and the wider public. They have an office in the RACE complex in Kildare Town, where they provide a valuable resource and contact point for jockeys as well as a central administration for people who may wish to undertake fundraising or make donations. Visit their website at http://irishinjuredjockeys.com/ to find out more.
As for Ruby and his own career – he still has many wins in him yet, he reckons. “I still have a great hunger for the competition and get immense satisfaction from what I do,” he says.
Injuries go with the territory but are not slowing him down.
“Injuries don’t affect my drive or enthusiasm. The mind forgets physical pain quickly enough!”