Winning return for rider months after breaking three vertebrae

  • A jockey who broke his back in three places in a pointing fall returned to the saddle with a winner on his first ride.

    Equine vet Tom Chatfeild-Roberts claimed the opening race at the Yorkshire Area Point-to-Point Club’s fixture at Sheriff Hutton on 12 January. The seven-year-old Smoke Man, owned by his father John and trained by Helen Connors, cruised to victory by close to three lengths in the conditions race (div one).

    “It was good to get back in the saddle and we were really pleased with the horse as he progressed well from a maiden, through restricted and intermediate last season,” Tom told H&H.

    Tom’s feat to be back not only in the saddle, but riding winners is remarkable given the injuries he sustained nine months ago.

    Tom, who has had 37 wins between the flags, was on his second ride of the day at the Quorn meeting at Garthorpe in April 2019, when six-year-old mare Dulwich Hill misjudged the 14th fence.

    “She didn’t really take off,”he said, adding the horse was thankfully unharmed. “I think I hit the ground head first and she then rolled over me, fracturing my T5, T6 and T7 vertebrae and dislocating my shoulder.

    “Luckily, the fractures were stable, so no surgery was needed. The fence attendants, paramedics, doctors on course and at Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham were brilliant and I was all scanned fairly quickly and discharged on pain relief and rest a couple of days later.

    “A week and a half after the accident, I went to the Injured Jockeys Fund (IJF) base in Lambourn for an initial assessment.”

    The team in Lambourn made a start on helping Tom with his shoulder and while it was too early to work on his back, he booked in for a stay several weeks later at the IJF’s Jack Berry House in Malton.

    Through physio, the hydrotherapy pool and exercises, the team at Jack Berry House helped Tom recover his strength.

    “They were very good and are just so used to dealing with these sorts of injuries,” he said.

    Tom continued his rehabilitation at home, focusing on core-strengthening circuit exercises, pilates and swimming to build his strength and fitness, while also having regular medical check-ups to ensure his body was healing as it should.

    “I was probably fitter by the end of it all than I was before the fall!” he said.

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    Twelve weeks after the accident, Tom got back on a horse —“a nice sensible hunter”. As it was the pointing off season, he took his return to riding steadily over the summer, picking up the pace in the autumn.

    “I was very lucky that it was just bones that I’d broken,” he said. “Thank you to my mum, dad and girlfriend Meisha Micklewright, who were all brilliant as while I was recovering I was probably quite bored and irritable! The IJF were also great in terms of rehabilitation and getting me going again and I’m also very lucky I haven’t had any ongoing issues.”

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