Mandy Minutola shares what it’s like working as an Athletic Trainer in the horse racing industry, advises other ATs, and what she hopes to see moving forward.
Mandy’s journey as an AT began at an early age. She played sports her whole life and was a huge soccer player. Then, in high school, she had a human anatomy class, and she thought to herself, “wow, I’m interested in this. I wonder if there was a way to connect anatomy and medicine to sports”, and that’s when she realized that is what an AT does. Her passion stems from her love of working with athletes and being able to take care of them and, at the same time, be around sports and healthcare.
Ever since she pursued a degree in athletic training and graduated from Marywood University, she’s been an AT for 12 years and works at Premier Physical Therapy in Delaware. Her responsibility as the Director of Athletic Training includes growing and managing their ATs and ensuring that athlete care and safety are number one.
When asked how she got into the horse racing industry, Mandy shares a story.
“A couple of years ago, Robert Colton, one of the stewards at Delaware Park, was at a meeting at the University of Delaware where our CEO was receiving an award. Robert decided to talk to him because they (Delaware Park) considered having ATs for their jockeys. So, they connected, and I met with Robert and Ed, the president of the Delaware Thoroughbred Horseracing Association. We chatted and realized it was a great fit to have an AT there because they didn’t have any medical personnel outside an EMS on the track. They need to have someone on the track that is trained and works with sports medicine, athletes, and injuries, so we did it.”
Working as an AT in the horse racing industry
While there are some similarities between being an AT in horse racing and other sports such as volleyball, hockey, soccer, etc., there are some stark differences.
- The pressure of being a Jockey
Unlike athletes in other sports, horse racing is their (jockeys) livelihood. Therefore, there’s a lot of pressure to stay fit and participate in as many races as possible because they are not getting paid if they don’t. As an AT, the question of “how do we take care of our athletes appropriately and safely?” is crucial because you want to ensure they are always in tip-top shape to make a living.
- Another entity to be cautious of
There is a constant variable of the horse that you can’t control. Jockeys can easily get a concussion by getting struck by the horse’s head, kicked, thrown, or falling from the horse. It’s a lot of risk relying on a horse that is going 40mph. Due to this factor, there are many more traumatic injuries than you may see in other sports.
Lessons learned from being an AT
Upon entering the world of horse racing, one of the most noticeable issues in the industry is the lack and very poor care for jockeys (in the United States); there are more policies and procedures for horses in the event of an injury than for humans.
“I had the opportunity in November of 2019 to travel to Dubai. I attended and presented at this international conference for the Health, Safety, and Welfare of Jockeys. While it was great to share what we’ve done at Delaware Park and how we’ve made many strides in conjunction with Laurel Park and Dr. Ryan, it was kind of sad to see how far advanced other countries are past us. For example, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and England. They are light years ahead of us, and it’s disappointing to see that.”
Almost every country that was part of the conference mandates having physicians on the race tracks. On the other hand, the US doesn’t, not even a necessary mandate of a medical professional that has to be there for the jockeys specializing in sports medicine, orthopedics, or concussion. EMS or paramedics are trained to aid injured athletes but what is currently lacking is the injury prevention and nutrition side. Without ATs, who is going to consult them about proper nutrition? Who educates them on what to look for or do during a concussion? There’s no complete continuous care for the jockeys.
When looking at sports such as football and other professional sports, there is a comprehensive list of protocols and procedures in the event of an injured athlete. When asked why this may be the case, Mandy mentioned the factor of popularity. For example, American football is much more popular in the US than horse racing; hence, a lot more exposure and concussion awareness. This has become their contract’s greatest motivation: to make changes to protect the jockeys in Delaware and across the country.
What Mandy hopes to see in the horse racing industry moving forward
In response to the lessons that she’s learned in the industry, she mentioned that she wants to see all race tracks in the US have an AT or a sports medicine physician for the jockeys on site, which has been a goal of Dr. Kelly Ryan from Laurel Park and Mandy’s.
Taking care and protecting athletes is what ATs do; it’s their bread and butter. Moreover, being part of the horse racing industry is a unique job experience; not many ATs have dived into the industry, and it’s an opportunity for them to be part of a niche market.
Mandy emphasizes the importance of having an AT on-site because they can do so much. ATs can do treatment, evaluation, rehab, etc. While doctors are fantastic, ATs are a more affordable option, and it puts less strain on race tracks’ budgets.
“For the most part, our (ATs) training centers around prevention, diagnosis, treatment, etc. In contrast, doctors can be broader. I think this is up to our alley, and it would be great to have more ATs.”
Advice to other ATs
- Be the voice of your athletes – You must be strong and advocate for the jockeys. Be the voice that says, “we need to do more for the athletes; they are not being protected, it’s not fair” to higher authorities. ATs are meant to advocate for athletes’ health, safety, and wellness.
- Horse racing is a unique opportunity – a different set of athletes in another sport. There are different types of injuries and things that can occur.
- To athletes: take care of yourself – When you’re injured, say something. Don’t try to push through things; it will only make it worse. Get a physical, eat well, and take care of yourself.
How HEADCHECK supports Mandy in doing her role
“HEADCHECK has been an integral part of where we are today at Delaware Park. We wanted to work with HEADCHECK because Dr. Kelly Ryan and I wanted the ability to have a system that can talk to other race tracks and to be able to flag jockeys that are ineligible to race (e.g., injured) and shouldn’t race.”
As jockeys constantly travel across cities and states, if it wasn’t for the implementation of HEADCHECK, Mandy could flag Jockey A as ineligible to play and prevent them from playing at Delaware Park. However, they can easily go to West Virginia and race because medical personnel don’t know they have been flagged. This is not uncommon in the industry because they don’t make money if they don’t race.
“HEADCHECK has been amazing in adapting the software to horse racing. For example, changing the terminology, adding needed forms, and giving certain access to the stewards but different access to the medical. It has been an amazing place to store medical information, jockey’s physicals, and baseline so we can access it anytime. It’s been very helpful in helping the bigger picture of improving the jockeys’ health, safety, and wellness, and there wasn’t anything like HEADCHECK before. Ultimately, the goal is to get all race tracks on the system.”
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