Jockey Jeffrey Burningham barely had time to celebrate his 47th birthday before he was thrown from a horse at Hastings Racecourse last Sunday and rushed to Vancouver General Hospital with, among other injuries, a broken back.
The father of two, whose birthday was July 11, had successful surgery late Tuesday according to his wife, Lacie.
“The prognosis is really good,” she said. “He’s got his cellphone, he’s texting and talking to people.”
Burningham’s mount Proud Cause clipped the heels of the horse in front heading into the final turn and the jockey was thrown and run over. He lay motionless before ambulance attendants reached him.
No horses were injured, but the jockey suffered a broken L3 vertebra, broken shoulder blade, broken ribs and a bruised lung.
“He’s very popular,” Hastings Racecourse spokesman Greg Douglas said of Burningham. “It’s amazing he’s still alive. He’s been banged up more than any jockey I’ve ever heard of.”
A couple of years after a serious riding accident in 2014, Burningham told The Vancouver Sun he’d “almost died” after suffering a collapsed lung, five broken ribs and a severe concussion.
“The doctors told me I’d never ride again,” he said.
But that didn’t stop him any more than a broken L2 vertebra did after a tree in the family’s yard fell on him in 2008.
“He recovered in about six months and was riding again in a year,” Lacie Burningham said.
A one-time trainer and now assistant to race secretary Nichelle Milner at Hastings, she witnessed Sunday’s accident.
“I don’t consider it bad luck; he’s alive,” she said. “Any injury where they don’t bury you six feet under, you’re pretty lucky.”
The couple, who have a 20-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son, met 22 years ago at a Cloverdale Rodeo dance and she knew exactly what the risks were when they married six months later.
“People ask what it’s like to be married to a rider. I say it’s like being married to a police officer or firefighter. They go on call and there’s a risk to it, and it’s the same being married to a rider; there’s a risk to it.
“I knew that when we got married and I still signed up for it.”
Such serious injuries as Burningham’s are rare at Hastings, Douglas said, but when they occur it affects the small and tight community at the track.
“It’s always there, the fear. It’s always in the back of your mind when you have a 120-pound jockey on the back of a 1,200-pound animal.”
Every track in Canada contributes money to the jockeys’ guild for a fund to help cover injuries, which is paid out depending on the number of mounts a jockey has in a year.
One of the roles of the Jockeys’ Benefit Association of Canada, which has about 150 members, is to negotiate disability insurance, career-ending insurance and life insurance.
“Due to the danger inherent to the occupation, a jockey would be unable to obtain such insurance as an individual, and would not be able to survive at a racetrack without it,” the association’s website says.
“When a jockey needs to make an insurance claim, the association assists the jockey with the necessary forms, reviews the claim and ensures proper response from the insurance company.”
Otherwise, as a B.C. resident Burningham is entitled to B.C. medical coverage, but as an independent contractor is not eligible for WorkSafeBC.
Horsemen (and women) at Hastings are setting up a GoFundMe page to help with expenses for Burningham that are not otherwise covered.
Burningham will in all likelihood take the advice he gives other riders who have suffered severe injury, Lacie Burningham said: Get back on that horse.
“That’s his philosophy. Racing is pretty much his life.
“Horses make him happy. They’ve all got different personalities and he loves figuring them out, which is why I’ve never asked him to quit.”
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