Is Horse Racing More Deadly For Women?

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"It may sound sexist but, statistically, female jockeys seem at greater risk from injury than their male counterparts," wrote Marcus Armytage in a 2014 article published by The Telegraph. At the time, the horse racing world had seen the deaths of four female — and no male — jockeys from Australia over the course of a 14-month period: Simone Montgomerie, Caitlin Forrest, Carly-Mae Pye, and Desiree Gill. The incidents caused some to wonder whether gender plays a role in the level of danger jockeys face, but the fact is, there is no evidence to giving credence to the notion that female jockeys are more at risk.

Though it's easy to see why four consecutive deaths of female jockeys in a relatively short period of time would raise questions about gender, the circumstances around these incidents suggest that either a different factor is to blame or that the gender disparity in these fatalities was simply coincidence. The deaths of all four women in question were the results of horse breakdowns — when the animals collapse while racing — not human error.

“I understand there’s a widespread perception throughout the industry, and even society at large that females are physically weaker than males,” said Australian Racing Board Chief Executive Peter McGauran in response to the speculation. "But whether that be true or not, they are equally capable in riding skills and courage and aptitude.” He added, "They are tragic deaths caused by 600-kilo horses racing at 60 kilometers an hour and bringing the girls to the ground.” Jockeys have no control whether a horse breaks down.

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Furthermore, with the exception of women jockeys who ride horses less than four years old having a slightly higher fall rate than their male peers, numerous studies have found no evidence of higher fall rates for female jockeys in other kinds of races. With the sport requiring riders to maintain low weights, women's bodies, on average, have an advantage over those of male jockeys.

Horse racing is generally considered to be a highly dangerous sport as a whole, with breakdowns being one of the main causes for jockey injuries and fatalities. A 2012 investigation by the New York Times estimated that 6,600 horses had broken down in the United States or shown signs of injuries over the course of three years. The widespread problem of drugging the animals, grueling training, and inadequate healthcare are usually the cause of mid-race breakdowns. Rather than focusing on the gender of jockeys who are injured or killed in races, looking into the measures taken to maintain their horses' physical health would probably yield a more accurate explanation as to what leads to these incidents.