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Ruby Walsh: Horse racing’s incredible Iron Man

The world's greatest jumps jockey gives us an incredible breakdown of his injuries to highlight the dangers faced by those in the saddle

by Josh Powell | December 1, 2014

He’s a two-time Grand National winner with a record 41 Cheltenham Festival wins to his name. Here, Ruby Walsh gives the Paddy Power Blog an outline of some of his most serious injuries in his 16-year professional career. Ruby returned to jumps racing in October after shoulder surgery following a brutal tumble at Cheltenham last March.

Ruby’s injuries highlight the dangers jockeys face in the sport, especially after those suffered by his pal JT McNamara who was paralysed following a fall at Cheltenham in March 2013.

Ruby has more concussions than he can remember, broken more ribs than he can count, ruptured his spleen and smashed bones from head to toe. The Iron Man doesn’t have a pin, plate or screw in him though and keeps breaking records and winning races.

‘Physical pain always goes away. It is 20 minutes, half an hour, two hours or a day maximum. The mental pain is always there. You’re sat looking at your injury, looking at your body, looking at the rides you could be on and the winning money you’re missing out on. You watch everything and you’re itching to get back. The mental pain is far more uncomfortable than the physical pain,’ he told the Paddy Power Blog.

‘Falling off a horse isn’t always sore. People say not falling right is the reason you get injured but that is wrong, that’s just a theory. The longer you can stay on the horse the better. The horse hits the jump and the horse hits the ground before you fall off. The closer you are to the ground and the slower you make it, the less likely you are to get hurt.’

Click here or tap the infographic to enlarge

Ruby Walsh infographic 2014

‘There’s lots of tough sports-people but there are plenty of soft ones as well. Hurlers are incredibly tough sports-men. They don’t wear shin-guards and you can see someone break a hurling stick across Henry Shefflin’s shin and the guy won’t even break stride. Then you watch someone brush off an International football player and he rolls around like his head is going to fall off. There are tough sports-people and soft sports-people.’

‘I don’t like people who feign injury. I can’t watch football because there is no point. They’re not playing football they are acting and they are bad actors. I don’t have time for that. You’re either hurt or you’re not. When you deal in a sport when serious injuries take place, to see someone feign injury is actually a little bit revolting.’

‘The tough guys in the weighing room are the most successful. Look at AP McCoy and what he is prepared to go through. The rest of us have to follow suit. You have to get tough quick and there is no sympathy for the soft.’

‘We don’t see ourselves as hard, we see ourselves as fair, and tough, and honest. If you want to be a wuss go and play something else. This is a mans sport.’

Ruby Walsh told the Paddy Power Blog more about his injuries and how dislocating his hip at Listowel, Co Kerry, was the worst pain he has ever felt. (He’s never watched a full episode of Made in Chelsea).

Dislocated shoulder – Cheltenham, 2014

I had three ligaments reattached to stabilise my shoulder and hold it place as a result of damaged caused over the last three years but finished off when I dislocated it again in Cheltenham last March.

Broken left ankle – Killarney, 2009

I broke this in a fall in Killarney. I fell off a horse called Imperial Hills and had to spend six weeks on the sidelines. This wasn’t a major injury and I walked out of the racecourse. I used a crutch but convinced myself it was fine. It is only when you cool down and you see the swelling that you realise something is wrong.

Broken right ankle – Galway, 2012

This didn’t hurt at all because I was knocked out! When I woke up in hospital they were x-raying it so it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t feel that one.

Broken right leg – Czech Republic, 1999

In 1999 I collided with a running rail and smashed it – my leg not the running rail. It was a clean break across the middle so that was lucky.

Right leg spiral break – Down Royal, 2010

This was a lot more severe than in the Czech Republic. It was in 2010 and I fell in a handicap chase. I did a very bad job on it this time. In a sense I was lucky with the treatment because I was in Northern Ireland and they put a frame on it. It is like having four wheels on a bike around your leg with the spokes going through the bone. This takes off the pressure and straightens up the leg to heal it. I have no metal or screws anywhere but I had the spokes in during this operation. Because it was a spiral fracture from my knee down to my ankle it was a tricky break and took four months to heal.

Broken left hip – Listowel, 2003

I was unseated off a horse of Joe Crowley’s and I was falling off him for some amount of time. He hit the fence hard and I was down at his tail, hanging on and hanging on. When I did fall off I landed square on the road-crossing, right on the ball of my hip. Luckily it only broke 75 per cent of the way through. If it had broken all the way across it would have required a pin and a plate, but because it was only three-quarters of the way across there was something holding it together so it closed itself. That 25 per cent was very significant. It was the only thing between having to have an operation and not having an operation. That’s was the only plus out of that fall.

Dislocated right hip – Listowel, 2001

In regards to physical pain this is the worst injury I have ever had. The hip is different to your shoulders. Your shoulders don’t sit in a socket but there is a socket with your hip. Your leg sits in your hip socket so to get it out through it is extremely painful. I had a general anaesthetic to just pop it back in. Two hours later it was done but in those two hours I was sorer than I have ever been.

Broken right wrist – Aintree, 2012

Left wrist – Cork, 2000

Ruptured spleen – Cheltenham, 2008

I ruptured my spleen at Cheltenham at the November meeting but I had damaged it the previous February in Kempton. A horse beside me fell at the third-last and as I was in mid-air the falling horse kicked me with his hind-legs as he rotated. That was very sore for a good few days. I went on to win that race but genuinely thought about pulling up before the final fence I was in that much pain. I damaged it that time but your spleen can’t heal itself.

I had another scar in the spleen after another incident at Listowel in September. I got a fall in a Novice Chase and the horse landed down on my back and tore the back pad off me. It was incredibly sore that night as well. There were a couple of scars in my spleen so I had definitely damaged it at those falls before eventually rupturing it at Cheltenham. When they took it out there were multiple scars in it and they only took it out when it eventually burst.

Now I can only take 1/8 of the antibiotics that a normal person can take because the spleen cleanses the blood.

Crushed T7 vertebrae – Cheltenham, 2006

I think this was in 2006 at Cheltenham and I didn’t know it had happened for three weeks. The doctors couldn’t find it. I was back riding and had ridden a few winners but I got a very soft fall in Gowran Park. I remember thinking I can’t deal with this pain anymore and that’s when they found it. I had crushed my vertebra three weeks earlier.

Fractured C6 vertebrae – Killarney, 2011

This was just a small fracture but I got lucky to be honest. As soon as you get above T and start into C you’re getting high and should be worried.

Broken left humerus – Aintree, 2010

I broke this in three places after falling off Celestial Halo in the Betfair Hurdle. This took the longest to heal. It was from Aintree right through until August because for bones to heal you need a blood supply running through the bones. That meant the top break and the bottom break had to heal before any blood got to the middle break. I didn’t know until I broke it that the humorous is the second largest bone in your body behind the femur. I only got told that when I wrecked mine. That was a very severe injury. This was awkward because of the cast. After 10 weeks I went on holidays and I hate going away in a cast because it’s not a holiday. You can’t swim, you can’t do anything, the heat is making you sweat in the cast, it’s a nightmare. Even when the doctor took the cast off and I was in a brace, the surgeon told me the most I could lift was the equivalent of a pint.

Dislocated right shoulder – Navan, 2007

Dislocated left shoulder – Cheltenham, 2007

Broken collarbone – Dundalk, 1999

This was the first serious injury I ever got as a professional jockey. This was back in August 1999 and I took a heavy fall at Dundalk.

Broken ribs

I’ve broken a few ribs over the years but they don’t really count. A rib injury doesn’t keep you out.


I’ve had a few of them but when and where I can’t remember. The last time I got knocked out was at Galway (2012) and before that was in Kilbeggan. I broke eight teeth and cracked my jaw. You can still see the lump. I think I was spitting out teeth for about two days.

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