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Two falls. Two female jockeys. Two deaths that raise questions about racing in Australia.

When Australian jockeys Melanie Tyndall and Mikaela Claridge went to work last week, no one could have anticipated they wouldn’t come home.

But the two women died after sustaining injuries from horse falls; creating a hole in not only their respective families, but also their second family – the racing community.

Because sadly, Tyndall and Claridge have become part of a startling statistic: since 2014, nine of the last 10 jockey deaths in Australia have been women.

It’s raised some oft-discussed questions in the industry in recent years: is the sport somehow safer for men than women? Is there a reason for these statistics, or is it just the way it’s turned out?

You can learn more about the tragic deaths of Melanie Tyndall and Mikaela Claridge in the video below. Post continues after video.

Video by Sky News

Two jockeys who loved their sport.

32-year-old Melanie Tyndall, originally from Murray Bridge in South Australia, moved to Darwin in 2012 to pursue her love of horse racing – while she was also a police officer.

Tyndall graduated from the police academy in 2018 and became engaged to her partner Tony Harris earlier this year.

But last week, the young jockey died when her horse clipped the heel of another during a race in Darwin. She became unbalanced, and later died in hospital.

In a statement, the Darwin Turf Club said of the jockey’s death; “Melanie was transported by St John Ambulance to Royal Darwin Hospital where she was afforded further medical care, but despite the best efforts of the professionals at RDH, Melanie passed away.

Melanie-Tyndall
"RIP Mel. You were a remarkable human being." Image: Facebook.
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“Melanie was a much-respected member of the Northern Territory racing family and her sad passing will be felt by many within the industry.”

Northern Territory police are also struggling with the loss of one of their own.

The Northern Territory's Acting Police Commissioner Michael Murphy told the ABC that Tyndall was, "highly regarded across all aspects of policing wherever she served".

Tyndall was also acknowledged by her friend and trainer, Michael Hickmott, in a tweet to the community, calling her a “remarkable human being”.

Less than 48 hours before Tyndall’s death, 22-year-old apprentice jockey Mikaela Claridge died after falling from her horse during training near Melbourne. She was attended to immediately by the on-course paramedic but could not be saved.

Training at Cranbourne Racecourse was cancelled, as was an eight-race meet at Pakenham that day. Jockeys wore black armbands on Saturday in race two at Caulfield, Rosehill and Warracknabeal, the latter of which was the race Claridge intended to ride in.

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Claridge began Racing Victoria’s Apprentice Jockey Training Program in 2015. A back injury soon after meant she put her training on pause until 2017. Claridge then came second when she rode her first race at Wangaratta in August 2018, and won her first race the next month.

In April this year, she married husband Jamie Ferguson.

After her accident last week, in a statement, the Australian Jockeys Association said:

“We are all going to miss Mikaela’s bright smile and positive attitude.

“After injury initially stalled her apprenticeship, she had started to build a really promising riding career over the past 12 months working with horses she loved.”

Mikaela-Claridge
“We are all going to miss Mikaela’s bright smile and positive attitude." Image: Getty.
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Why have recent jockey deaths been mostly women?

Amongst the devastation and grief, the conversation in the racing industry naturally turns to why the accidents happened; and why nine out of 10 of the most recent fatalities have been women.

The industry accepts that horse racing can be a dangerous sport for any jockey, with a high risk of injury. The Australian Jockeys Association CEO Martin Talty acknowledged on Sunday, racing “is a sport that we all love, but sometimes it can be so cruel, and we’ve seen that in the last 24 to 48 hours".

Des O’Keeffe, also from the Australian Jockeys Association, agrees. He told the ABC that horse racing was a dangerous sport.

"Unfortunately, there was a study done many years ago which provided those facts, that as a sporting pursuit there is nothing more dangerous.

"Safety equipment, whether it be plastic running rails, headwear, safety protective equipment, is as good as it can be. But there is an inherent danger in pursuing that profession.”

O’Keeffe also warned against conclusions about the accidents being drawn too early, especially about any gender-based implications.

“There needs to be a preliminary look at it, and a very wide-ranging discussion, because every single incident [has] got differences,” he said.

Five years ago, when speaking about the death of jockey Desiree Gill, O’Keeffe made his thoughts on the issue clear: saying female jockey deaths were related to gender was doing a disservice to the women who had worked hard to be where they are.

“These women have worked their backsides off to be considered competent, skilled, professional jockeys,” he said.

“Whether they are female or male genuinely shouldn’t come into it, what is relevant is that they are every bit as skilled, as competent, as dedicated, and as professional as their male counterparts, and deserve to be recognised as that.”

This week, Racing Victoria’s chief medical officer, Dr Gary Zimmerman, explained the statistics in a wider context, sharing that while there were now more female jockeys, the majority of injuries he saw were from men.

“The injuries that we see in jockeys vary a lot, from simple bruises to major fractures,” he told The Australian.

Perhaps the answer then is to increase safety measures? But O’Keeffe assured the ABC that, "If there was something more that could be done, this industry would do it, this sport would do it".

If this story has raised any issues for you, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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