Improving jockey safety through virtual reality and biomarkers of concussion

La Trobe University

  • Project code: PRJ-011192

  • Project stage: Closed

  • Project start date: Friday, October 19, 2018

  • Project completion date: Saturday, May 15, 2021

  • National Priority: HOR-Thoroughbred horse welfare, workforce safety and environmental sustainability


Only offshore fishing is a more dangerous occupation than being a horse jockey. Jockeys are exposed to serious health risks in their workplace and these risks are exacerbated by occupational stress. Rates of concussion amongst jockeys are very high. Data from 2014–June 2016 (Racing Victoria) suggest that 5% of jockeys suffer a concussion each year, making them 5 times more likely to suffer a concussion than AFL players.
Our pilot work demonstrated that compared with jockeys with low self-reported stress, stressed jockeys exhibit meaningful decreases in their decision-making and reaction times. The magnitude of this effect is comparable with people with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08%. While factors beyond stress may also play a part in fall risk and injury, this level of impaired decision-making is considerable and will certainly be related to poor riding performance.
The proposed study will build on these findings with a prospective design that uses CONVIRT, a virtual reality decision-making test developed by our team that incorporates eye-tracking technology and decision-making tasks in a simulated horserace environment. We will also collect baseline blood specimens from professional jockeys and will collect additional samples after each recorded concussion. The aim is to identify biomarkers that assist in diagnosis, prognosis, and recovery from the brain injury. At present, there is no objective test for concussion. Using CONVIRT and blood biomarkers, we seek to remedy this, and improve jockey safety by:
(i) better informing return-to-ride status post-concussion and
(ii) identifying riders who may not be fit-to-ride


Thoroughbred Horses

Research Organisation

La Trobe University

Objective Summary

This study aligns with Objective 3 ‘Improve the safety of industry participants’ by ‘improved monitoring of adverse health outcomes in humans associated with horse events’ and will be the first study to use a prospective design to assess the changes in blood biomarkers of jockeys from pre to post-concussion over a three year period.
It will:
• Assist in identifying the ‘window of brain vulnerability’ for jockeys
• Provide a more objective measure of concussion and recovery
• Influence return-to-ride policy
• Assist with prognosis and injury management
This study will be the most comprehensive assessment of the impact of occupational stress upon decision-making in any occupation, let alone with jockeys. It will make significant and innovative contributions in the following important areas:
• Develop an evidence base of occupational stressors and support needs of jockeys and assist in the ongoing reviews of workplace safety;
• It will produce robust data about the relationship of occupational stress on decision-making that will increase industry acceptance and inform national, state and local policy to decrease the ill-effects of work-related stress;
• It adopts a methodological approach that treats elite athletes as employees, who are often excluded from traditional occupational health research;
• It will build upon an existing collaborative partnership with Racing Victoria and Cogstate and will generate a capacity to influence return-to-work and fit-to-work policy in sport more generally.
The data arising from these studies will provide an evidence base to inform strategies for intervention with an at-risk population to mitigate the likelihood of injuries and deaths.