Jess Eaton was thrown from the horse she was riding, but considers herself lucky.

Despite breaking her back, she is now back in the saddle and thankful things are not worse.

“I was conscious when I hit the ground, I was winded quite badly,” Eaton recalled.

“I didn’t think I had actually broken anything.

“I was in a little bit of pain but I thought most of that was from being winded.”

It was an overcast, cold July morning at Murray Bridge and the horse settled in the gates well but once they opened it was a different story.


Eaton was taken to hospital for scans but not before joking with the horse’s trainer that she was fine and would be riding for him again on the weekend.

The medical examination ultimately told a far different story.

Eaton escapes spinal cord damage

Her landing left her with compression fractures in her L3 vertebra.

“When you get a crush injury like this, it just squashes it down and she lost 35 per cent of her vertebral height in that vertebral body, so that probably equates to about a centimetre,” according to Racing SA’s medical panel member, Dr Steve Kennett.

In other words, Eaton, 30, now stands one centimetre shorter than she was before the accident.

On the other hand, there was no damage to the spinal cord nor the surrounding nerves.

Jess Eaton stands one centimetre shorter than she was before the accident.(Supplied: Instagram/Jessica Eaton)

“These jockeys have very traumatic injuries and we see lots of nasty injuries for them,” Dr Kennett said.

“Not just for this sort of injury but others. But we always worry about what could’ve happened and I think she is lucky.

“She’s been left with little or no ongoing disability, which is remarkable in itself.”

For her part, Eaton was surprised at the extent of the injury but nevertheless determined it would not stop her from returning to the saddle.

“Very, very lucky considering the magnitude of the fall that I didn’t walk away with more serious injuries,” said Eaton, the John Letts medallist as the 2021’s most outstanding jockey.

“I think that day, even though I was told my back was broken, I knew I’d be able to get back.”

Physiotherapy helps Eaton return to the saddle

Her confidence was boosted with the news the fractures were stable and she would not need surgery, something she had needed when she suffered previous injuries.

“I think the recovery from broken legs have been worse because they required surgery,” she reasoned.

Incredibly, she was released without spending even one night in hospital.

What followed was a five-month recovery period.

“Jess is eminently sensible,” said Dr Kennett of her rehabilitation.

Jess Eaton did not require surgery on her fractures.(ABC News)

“One of the interesting things we have with some of these jockeys is that they’re so motivated to return they push themselves perhaps past where we’d like them to.

“Our job is to rein them back a bit and make sure we’re doing everything sensibly.”

Building strength and stability were the keys to Eaton’s physiotherapy treatment, which involved driving from her Murray Bridge home three times a week for appointments in Adelaide.

“Sometimes we need to hold back but Jess was really good at taking on board what she needed to do and when and I think that really helped with her rehab,” said her physiotherapist Jennifer Laver Scott.

“It was about getting the muscles to work again because they will switch off when you’re protecting an injured area.”

Eaton was not able to get back in the saddle and do track work until late October, confident there was no fear factor to prevent her progress.

“If I was in a position where I thought I was too scared to be riding it’s probably a time where I needed to hang up my boots,” she said of her mindset throughout the recovery period.

‘I’m out there and doing what I love’

As if to prove to herself it was not a concern, Eaton has watched the video of her accident.

“I’ve had a lot of chuckles to myself that I did escape it the way I did but it definitely does hit home that you know there is a really good chance that things could’ve ended a lot more seriously,” she said.

Her much anticipated return to race riding was on December 10, just on five months since her fall.

Jennifer Laver Scott says Jess Eaton has responded well to treatment.(ABC News: Ben Pettitt)

“I don’t think I realised how much I really did miss it until I was in the gates ready to go,” Eaton revealed.

“I think it’s the first time going out of the gates I might have been a little bit nervous but I think that’s just excitement as well.

“I’m out there and doing what I love. I don’t think I could do it if I was genuinely scared.”

Her first win in her comeback came on New Year’s Day on her home track at Murray Bridge and then two days later at Mount Gambier she claimed a milestone 300th win of her career.

“It was amazing and I had that goal to try and tick that off before then end of the season (in August) but obviously getting injured put that on hold,” Eaton said.

With all the boxes ticked, her next aim to win a group race.

“Whether it’s a three, two or one I won’t complain but just those opportunities would be amazing,” she said.

“I think I do have some good stables behind me to present that opportunity down the track and I’ll be working as hard as I can to make sure I can secure one of those.”

Don’t bet against her.

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