Gaertner met former champion rider and physician’s assistant Gregg Morris a few years ago when she started working with the Steeplechase Jockeys Association of America. President Forrest Kelly, Kevin Tobin and Jennie Pearson had been working on new medical protocols for race meets, and Gaertner offered to help. In that way, she kicked off what’s become a ground-breaking movement in the American sport.
“Erica’s the best,” Kelly says of Gaertner, who currently acts as SJAA vice-president. “She brings with her this lifetime of knowledge about our sport, and the ability to articulate it in an updated way that helps everybody involved.
“She’s got the best interest of the riders first and foremost, and she knows most of the (players.) She speaks the same language, and everybody realizes she’s on their side.”
A few years ago, Gaertner began to work closely with Morris to develop standard race-day medical evaluations for riders, baseline tests for concussions included.
“Gregg has been very supportive of my desire to keep moving in a forward direction with jockey safety,” she says. “My reason to do this is to give back to a sport that has done so much for me,” she says. “I can finally put my medical skills to use with my passion of equestrian sports."
American jump racing is somewhat unique in racing because the circuit travels pretty much as a unit, yet no “team doc” travels with them.
“There’s no (single) physician that covers every race,” Gaertner explains. “That can create some inconsistencies in care – just the nature of having a traveling sport.
“My goal is to make care as consistent as possible to keep the jockeys safe. I hope that this will help the …. jockeys feel their health and safety continues to be a priority.”
She hopes to offer something more.
Outside the physical challenges of the intensely demanding sport, Gaertner plans to initiate a support system for athletes struggling with issues outside of “race day” injuries, including emotional challenges.
“I want to make myself available as a resource,” she says. “Mental health is obviously a concern with athletes, due to the high pressure they are under to perform. I want them to know that I am a person they can reach out to for anything they need.”
“Erica is eminently qualified for this position, and kudos to her for taking it on,” Morris says. “As I told her, I am willing to play any supporting role she needs and am always available for consult.