IJF/BEF Concussion Conference

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IJF / BEF conference encourages cross discipline commitment to concussion education

The inaugural Cross-Industry Concussion Symposium 2023 was held at Cheltenham Racecourse last Friday, hosted jointly by the Injured Jockeys Fund and British Equestrian.

Compered by racing and equestrian presenter, Alice Plunkett, there were 100 attendees across the equestrian disciplines in the UK.

The objective of the event was to look at the history, development and government guidelines around concussion and discuss best practice and shared learnings for a more collaborative approach moving forwards.

Currently, racing is the most advanced of the equestrian sports with very specific guidelines around identifying concussions, baseline testing and recovery procedures before a participant can return to ride, albeit only on a racecourse and not to the same extent for staff in yards. The BEF introduced general concussion guidance for equestrians as part of an education campaign this summer.

Opening, William Norris, KC, Chairman of the IJF said:
“We at the IJF believe that we are very well placed to help others in equestrian sport to develop and follow good practice for the benefit of our participants and for the benefit of those who have some social and legal responsibility to those participants be they trainers, owners, or organisers. Everyone needs to understand and follow good practice, partly because it’s the right thing to do and partly because that is the way in which they can discharge their legal duty of care. It won’t be an overnight fix; it is a question of developing ways of educating and sharing our experiences across equestrian sport generally.”

Lisa Hancock, CEO of the IJF said:

“Racing is fortunate in that we have over 20 years of awareness as to the implications of concussion and we are very keen to share those learnings and best practice with other equestrian disciplines. What was so encouraging today is that whilst we all know the logistical challenges this creates, everyone seems to want to work together using education and communication to improve things for the 1.8 million people that ride, regardless of skill, age, or discipline.”

The three key speakers were Dr Jerry Hill, Chief Medical Adviser for the BHA,  Dr Anna-Louise Mackinnon, Lead Medical Adviser at the IJF and Chief Medical Officer for British Equestrian and Rosy Hyman, Racing Industry Concussion Practitioner.

Dr Hill said:
“We need to promote the concept of collect responsibility with concussion. You can’t have medical staff being the only people concerned, you need the support of other colleagues across the equestrian spectre, particularly decision makers and funders as some of the changes we need are structural. If you are the doctor, or first aider, you need support of the organisation behind you.”

Dr Anna-Lousie Mackinnon said:
“One of the key issues is that concussion is largely invisible, and it is often not treated in the same way as a broken limb. And yet correct diagnosis and recovery are vital to the rider being able to return to safely continue participating in their sport in whatever they do and at whatever level.”

Rosy Hyman went on to say:

“We know that if you return too quickly, you are at a much higher risk of another injury. So, the key focus must be what we call the four R’s – Recognise (the signs and symptoms). Remove (the injured person from all horse-related activities). Recover (until all symptoms have been resolved). Return (to ridden activity through gradual, stepwise process).”

Jockeys, past and present, adding input via video into the conference, included Tom Scudamore, Martin Dwyer, Tabitha Worsley, Kevin Brogan, and Harry Bannister. They all shared their experiences of concussion, notably that in some incidents, you do not realise you have it and in some, you want to ‘cover it up’, ‘beat the Doctor’ and not lose rides. However, they all acknowledged that riding with concussion is not only dangerous but will not have you performing at your best, and so as times move forwards, all jockeys and staff at yards are going to have to change attitudes and use the help at hand, especially at the IJF’s three centres. Concussion procedure will therefore start to become the norm.

The second session of the morning involved workshops with all those attending, at which the many issues were discussed – financial and logistical restrictions, especially at grassroots level, the difficulties of having the ‘same rules for everyone’ plus the challenges of changes attitudes across all disciplines to this often ‘invisible’ condition. It was agreed that one cost-effective solution, especially targeted at the younger generation could be across discipline social media campaigns – simple to execute and far-reaching in their scope.

Closing, Alice Plunkett, summed up:

“It’s such a complex issue with no easy fix, and it is therefore essential that all disciplines work together and take on multi levels of responsibility.

What has been so encouraging today is that so many in this room have the desire to do that and to make our wonderful sport as safe as it can be for the participants in the future.”

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