To celebrate the Injured Jockeys Fund (IJF) being Horse & Hound's charity for 2016, we meet some of the equestrians who have benefitted from its help. Jo Mason talks to H&H about her head injury, and how the IJF's new rehabilitation centre, Jack Berry House, has helped her recover
Granddaughter of legendary dual-purpose trainer Mick Easterby, Joanna Mason is a successful amateur jockey based in North Yorkshire who readily admits she was on a horse before she could walk. A regular on the circuit, she point-to-points in the winter and flat races in the summer.
On Saturday 21 March 2015, Jo was piloting Comedinewithme at Hurworth point-to-point, a “very good mare” on which she had previously been “just beaten into second” on her maiden race at Friars Haugh and won at Sinnington earlier that month. However, at Hurworth, the mare buckled on landing, throwing Jo to the ground.
“I pegged the floor, head first,”says Jo. “And I don’t remember much after that.”
The 25-year old was knocked out cold by the fall and later, taken to hospital. X-rays revealed she had broken her back in two places: fractured her T8 and crushed her T9 vertebrae. The following Wednesday, she was operated on at the James Cook hospital in Middlesborough.
“The doctor told me that normally they would insert four pins and two rods,’” remembers Jo. “But due to what I do and the instability of the crushed vertebrae, they decided to use eight pins and two rods.”
Jo returned home the following day. “My head injury took more than I realised out of me — it alters your character,” she recalls. “It was so frustrating — I couldn’t get back on and I couldn’t do anything. I’m normally so busy and going from that to doing nothing was so boring.”
Five weeks later, she returned to the hospital for a check up. Happy with her progress so far, the doctor advised she could “kick on with physio but not fall off a horse!”
Luckily for Jo, Jack Berry House, a new IJF rehabilitation centre for northern-based jockeys was just 10 minutes away from home. Displaying admirable grit and determination, Jo utilised the state of the art facilities at Jack Berry House three to four times a week.
She went to the gym, had physiotherapy and worked in the hydrotherapy pool, which allowed her to exercise whilst minimising impact on her back. She also rode out her ex-racehorse, Liverpool (pictured below), who she later went on to enjoy success on in the side-saddle show ring.
Gemma Darling, the resident physiotherapist at Jack Berry House monitored Jo closely and after three months, sent a report to the BHA.
“I got my license back straight away. Gemma advised I could ride out two to three horses a day and before I knew it I was back to the usual eight,” she says.
Four days after having her license returned to her, Jo was back race riding. She finished third in her first race back at Doncaster on 9 July aboard Annabel Murphy-trained Todd and celebrated her first win post-injury on Space War in an amateur ladies’ race at Chester on 10 July. This horse was also trained by her grandfather, Mick.
The season culminated in Jo being crowned the joint amateur lady jockeys Flat champion with Serena Brotherton.
“I could not have wished for a more amazing season after what happened,” she says.
Jo credits her return to race riding to the work of the IJF: “If Jack Berry House hadn’t been there I don’t think I’d have been back race riding after three months. Without the rehab I would have been weak and useless on a horse but instead I felt like I hadn’t missed a day.”
Jo had the metal work taken out of her back this January. Although she is back in action and more determined than ever, she continues to attend circuit classes at Jack Berry House on Monday and Wednesday nights.
“It’s not just for injured people,” she explains. “It’s for jockeys to get fit, seek guidance and get simulator experience.”
A usual 30 seconds on, 20 seconds off circuit includes sled pushes, skipping, burpies, the SkiErg, medicine ball slams, battle ropes and cycling before repeating it all, seven or eight times.
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“I only used to ride out my horses and that was it but now I go to the gym and I do circuits as well. It has definitely improved my performance. I don’t care what anyone says — you need to be fit to ride.”