A jockey is someone who rides horses in horse racing or steeplechase racing, primarily as a profession. Jockeys are normally self-employed, nominated by horse trainers to ride their horses in races, for a fee (which is paid regardless of the prize money the horse earns for a race) and a percentage of the purse winnings.
But it is less widely known that a jockey’s life is one of threatening debilitation and fatal injuries. S Mani’s was no different. Discarded by his very own people and being treated like a mad man after he sustained head injuries due to a fall from his horse in 1994, Mani has been living a wretched life.
The star jockey of the 80s, he has been deserted by his family, including his wife, to fend for himself in this cruel world. But somehow he still manages to live on the support from his friends and well- wishers. I discovered the story of this man who lives by the sweet memories spent with his family and the days when he had both name and fame.
However, today smiles are back on his face as people who considered him to be a mad man know his past now – a past of a star jockey who won a number of races during his good days. From Mani, he has turned to Mr. Mani and is looked upon with respect. Now the very same people want to talk to him about things which have been haunting him for years.
The new Mani
“I am being recognised for my name again and not because of the horrible things that happened to me,” said the 57-year-old. Mani does not have a shelter and sleeps with one blanket on a winter night. The yesteryear star eagerly awaits the day when his wife and two sons will come back to him. With a hope he asks, “Will I get my family back?” His friends who had jockeyed with him earlier are the wall of support for him.
The oldies who have seen his good and bad days have started showing solidarity with Mani. “He is a man who fell on earth directly from the sky. It’s very difficult for a person to survive in such a situation. But he was brave enough! Whatever happened to him was wrong. We hope he gets justice,” said Ali Khan, assistant trainer, who had seen Mani grow up in front of him.
People who have seen Mani growing are witness to the dastardly act of his family. “I have seen him as a successful jockey. He got married in front of my eyes. And right now also, I am seeing his condition. Even if he was mentally disturbed and a cause of trouble for his family, does that mean he was to be abandoned? What is he getting in return after doing so much for his wife and children? No one has even tried to contact him after his fate was put up in newspapers and news channels,” said Madan Lal, retired jockey, with an appalling tone.
Mani finds solace in seeing his friends doing so well. He never forgets to compliment upon their hard work. A cheerful Mani narrates his story with best friend, Nawab Khan, a one-time jockey and now a
trainer at Delhi Race Club. Nawab Khan in reply says, “Yes, we are good friends. We jockeyed together. Now I am a trainer. But his fate destroyed his career. But still I am always there with him.”
Whether relatives and family are there or not, Mani is living on hopes given to him by people around. While most of them are disgusted by his family’s act, others pray that he gets justice some day. “A wife is expected to stay with her husband to support him in times of distress. But this woman fled with the kids and left him alone. What kind of relation is it? If they thought that he was not well, they could have admitted him in a hospital. Instead they chose to leave him on the roads,” said Irfan Khan, a trainer.
Risk factors for horse jockeys
Horse racing is a sport where jockeys may incur permanent, debilitating, and even life-threatening injuries. Chief among them include concussion, bone fractures, arthritis, trampling, and paralysis. Jockey insurance premiums remain among the highest of all professional sports. Between 1993 and 1996, 6,545 injuries occurred during official races for an injury rate of 606 per 1,000 jockey years. In Australia race riding is regarded as being the second most deadly job, after offshore fishing. From 2002 to 2006 five deaths and 861 serious injuries were recorded.
Eating disorders (such as anorexia) are also very common among jockeys, as they face extreme pressure to maintain unusually low (and specific) weights for men, sometimes within a five pound (2.3 kg) margin. The bestselling historical novel Sea Biscuit: An American Legend chronicled the eating disorders of jockeys living in the first half of the 20th century. As in the cases of champion jockey Kieren Fallon and Robert Winston, the pressure to stay light has been blamed in part for jockeys suffering agonies of thirst from dehydration while racing. Sports Dietitians Australia warns: “Dehydration and energy depletion may compromise concentration and coordination.”