Skye Bogenhuber was unconscious for two days after a heavy fall in March. (Trackside Photography)
Skye Bogenhuber can’t remember the first week after the accident in which she almost died.
- Skye Bogenhuber suffered a serious brain injury after a fall during a practice race in March
- After months of rehab and despite the risk, she is now back riding horses, where she says she feels “at home”
- Studies have shown horseracing is the most dangerous land-based occupation
The jockey was unconscious for two days. Her family didn’t know if she was going to wake up.
“Apparently, one doctor came in and told my loved ones, ‘They don’t normally survive when they’ve had such a hard blow to the head’,” she told the ABC.
The accident happened in March during practice races at the Toowoomba racecourse.
“I think the horse may have stumbled. I was hanging sort of around its neck and it’s flicked me off,” Bogenhuber said.
“I didn’t even have a scratch on me, but I hit my head that hard that I was asleep for two days.”
Paul Brennan, the assistant racecourse manager, jumped in the ambulance with Bogenhuber because he thought he might not see her alive again.
Skye Bogenhuber spent months completing physiotherapy after her injury. (Supplied: Alena Watkins)
That first, lost week in hospital was the hardest for her friends and family as she began her recovery from a serious brain injury.
“Yeah, it was scary for them. For one, they didn’t know if I was going to wake up and they didn’t know if I would have any memory, or anything like that,” Bogenhuber said.
Incredibly, when she finally came around, her first thought was of riding again.
“It’s not like a job to me, it’s my life,” she said.
“I love it and I remember when the neurologist suggested that he wasn’t going to let me back that I cried, and I said, ‘Just let me back and get on a horse and if I feel scared or different I’ll walk away’.
“They tried to advise me not to ride again. They said I’ve got a lot of scar tissue on the brain.”
Months passed. Endless physio. The brain injury had affected her co-ordination, the one function jockeys need more than any other to navigate a 500kg animal running in a pack of flighty animals at up to 50kph.
And then there was the emotional impact of the injury.
“I had no confidence. I couldn’t get dressed and go out and face people. I felt ashamed and I didn’t know why,” she said.
“It’s just so much neurological damage. I got a bit of depression, I got post-traumatic symptoms. Everything just took so much time to get my coordination and balance back.”
A reminder, if ever one was needed, that being a jockey is an incredibly dangerous job.
“Studies show over the years, it is considered the most dangerous land occupation in the world,” Kevin Ring, the national work health safety officer for the Australian Jockey’s Association, said.
“If a jockey crashes in a race, sometimes they walk away, sometimes they don’t.”
The statistics he keeps are stark.
“It’s estimated that in the next 10 years, we will see 12 jockey deaths and 50 jockeys will suffer career-ending injuries including paraplegia, quadriplegia and severe brain injury,” he said.
Of the 840 jockeys registered in Australia, 200 are injured each year.
Of those, 40 per cent will have an injury that stops them riding for an average of five weeks.
Changes to safety have been made. Helmets are improving, jockeys now wear padded vests, tracks are in better condition and the rails on courses, which were previously aluminium are now made of plastic.
Mr Ring said there’s little else that can be done.
After a few months out of action, Bogenhuber has returned to the saddle. (Trackside Photography)
“As far as something that’s fundamentally new or anything, not in the near future, put it that way,” he said.
The deaths in August did give Bogenhuber some food for thought, but even more so for her family.
“I did have a fair few family members questioning me because it was in the media a lot and they were even asking if I wanted to return, and I just said to them, ‘Don’t jump in your car either, you could have a car accident’,” she said.
Which is why, seven weeks ago, she got back on a racehorse.
“It was amazing. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face the whole day,” Bogenhuber said.
“Once I got on and rode a couple that morning, I felt no different to before the fall. I didn’t feel any fear, all I felt was joy and excitement. And up there on the horses back, I actually felt at home.”
She has begun to ride practice races again with her neurologist’s permission, and despite the dangers of having another fall and another brain injury, she’s preparing to ride in a race.
“You know the risk and if you’re still happy to do it with that risk, then I think you’re doing the right thing,” she said.