Amateur steeplechase jockey Jake Chalfin was severely injured when he fell from his horse into a fence line at the Blue Ridge Fall Races in Berryville, Va., Sept. 18.
The 32-year-old from Pennsylvania was riding Gum Tree Stable’s 3-year-old filly Sometimes Not in the open hurdle when she bolted off course around the second fence.
“I was galloping out in front, but it looked like she cocked her jaw and ran out of the second hurdle,” jockey James Slater said. “She ran along the fence near the stabling area and double gates where they let the horses in for the races. I don’t think she was trying to jump out or anything, I just think she propped and ducked, then shook him off.”
Chalfin’s body hit the top rail of the fence. He was airlifted to Winchester Medical Center in Winchester, Va. After X-rays and MRI scans it was determined he needed to see spine specialists, and he was airlifted to The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md.
Chalfin underwent about eight hours of surgery and is alert and in the Neuro Intensive Care Unit.
“He fractured many vertebrae and has all sorts of rods, pins and plates holding his back and neck together in different places,” his father Richard Chalfin said. “There was damage to his spinal cord too. He’s basically paralyzed from the chest down.”
His father added, “He has full use of his arms and hands and had no head or organ damage, but the doctors do not think he will ever walk again. If any good can come of this, the doctors said his safety vest and helmet saved his life. They were amazed he did not have any internal injuries or the brain damage, which they say usually accompanies an accident like this. I hope more riders will continue to use them.”
Chalfin, who has been riding under rules since 2007, won four point-to-point races and placed second in three sanctioned races this spring. He has had 20 victories, 21 seconds and 17 thirds in sanctioned and point-to-points combined.
Slater said accidents like this are a wake-up call to all riders.
“It’s not a welcome reminder,” Slater said. “We all know how dangerous this is and what can happen. We just don’t like thinking about it.”
Chalfin’s father, of Boston, Mass., expects his son to remain at Johns Hopkins for several weeks before moving to a rehabilitation center. Cards or flowers may be sent to Jake Chalfin, c/o The Johns Hopkins Hospital, 600 North Wolfe Street, Meyers Building 7, Room # 723, Baltimore, MD 21287.