When Clare Lindop thinks back to when she first rode a horse, 25 years ago as an eager 10-year-old, she does not recall a warning that falling off was an inevitable hazard of the pastime which has since become her trade.
Instead, she remembers advice that it was partly up to her to make sure she was never, or as rarely as possible, thrown to the ground and in danger of being trodden or rolled on.
"While you do your best not to fall off ... a good horseman will say 'A horse becomes a better horse when a rider becomes a better rider', so you improve yourself so you don't fall off; that's the whole point," she said.
Lindop has progressively become the more skilful rider she aspired to be, a feat reflected in her twice winning the Adelaide jockeys premiership, a Victoria Derby, a race at Newmarket in England and, most memorably to probably all bar racing aficionados, in 2003 becoming the first Australian woman to ride in a Melbourne Cup.
With that experience she quickly realised she was in a "dangerous spot" on Adelaide Cup day in March when her mount, Gamblin' Guru, was hot on the heels – literally, to her peril – of another horse, Kelly Royale.
In such close quarters it is easy for the trailing horse's rising front hooves to clip the leading horse's hind hooves mid-stride. Such contact does not guarantee one or both horses – and with them the jockeys – fall, but it sharply increases the likelihood.
Lindop's mount did stumble. At a cruising speed of about 40km/h there would seemingly be little time for her to react, but she immediately knew what was to come; she was just helpless to prevent it.
She was catapulted forward, with Gamblin' Guru similarly stumbling forward due to the momentum. As the horse rolled Lindop "got crushed underneath him a little bit". But, as many jockeys have discovered with tragic consequences, even a little of between 500 and 600 kilograms is a lot, especially for a diminutive jockey who typically rides at 51 kilograms.
"It wasn't his full weight ... but it was enough," she said.
The "enough" was to fracture Lindop's shoulder, collarbone and 15 of her ribs.
Despite Lindop retaining a vivid recollection of the fall, and the aftermath of it, there was little fear from her when she returned to racing on Wednesday after an unprecedented, for her, four-month absence. That was partly because the mid-week meeting was on Morphettville's inside track – her accident occurred on the outer one – but it was also because her nerve had never wavered. Her biggest task was a need to "get her eye in", to be able to judge the pace of races instinctively, and act accordingly, rather than constantly telling herself to evaluate how the race she was in was being run.
Of the four rides she had in Adelaide on her return, one came second and another, Visual Impact, saluted at the handy – for those that backed it – price of $11.20.
The win meant her return conclusively went well. She did, however, take notice of the constant inanimate companion that served as a reminder of the danger that still existed for her and all of her peers: the on-duty ambulance that follows the horses and their jockeys around for every race.
"We're the only job where you get followed by ambulance attendants. They're there and that's it. You don't even think twice about why they're there, except that you never race without them," she said. "There's been different times where ambulances have been delayed [and it has said we should start anyway] ... but you just don't race without them."
The diminutive Lindop prides herself on being independent, yet for her week in hospital and the first half of her convalescence she, much to her frustration, regressed to a dependent. Her injuries, primarily the ribs, ruled out even the most basic of domestic tasks, such as opening the washing machine or making the bed.
"You can't do anything. You can't undo a jar, you can't pour a kettle. I couldn't even unplug the toaster," she said. "I couldn't even walk my dog. I had to get friends to hold the lead, that's how weak I was."
That experience gave her a new respect for footballers who continue to play with broken ribs.
For more than two months those walks with her dog, Coco, along the beach were virtually the only exercise she could do. When she was eventually cleared to return to the gym she was encouraged by how she felt on the bike and treadmill – but horrified at how helpless she was when attempting to do crunches, when she lay down but could not get back up.
"It was like my stomach had forgotten how to work ... I had to get a spotter to do sit-ups the first time," she said. "I never thought I'd be happy to do sit-ups."
Lindop's favourite fitness activity is trackwork; it's her answer to a morning jog. She has done it since she was 15, when she left school in Warrnambool to be an apprentice.
Her return to trackwork last month for trainer Leon Macdonald, a long-term advocate of her prowess as a jockey, began on the most placid horses, not through fear but because she was unsure if she had enough strength in her shoulder to withstand a horse rearing suddenly.
While there was element of "fairytale" to her return on Wednesday, because it featured a winner on her first day back in the saddle, it was also strategic.
The most recent of Lindop's two SA jockey championships came in 2007-08. Even with the four-month outshe is set to finish fourth in the SA jockey championship. With the new season only a fortnight away, she saw the opportunity to regain her groove just beforehand as essential to chasing her much-desired third metropolitan title.
Lindop is adamant hers is not a story of an injured female jockey successfully returning to racing, but the return of an injured jockey who happens to be female.
The now 35-year-old has always punched above her (feather) weight for publicity since the first Melbourne Cup appearance, which has made her a target of good-natured ribbing in the jockeys' room. She said women's comparative lack of strength was a disadvantage for many sports but not racing, arguing it has little impact on the ability to be a successful "pilot" of the horse.
Lindop's high profile, especially in Adelaide, meant her fall, recovery and return were all closely monitored, and the latter celebrated widely in the media. But it does bring a feeling of somewhere between embarrassment and guilt that other peers have endured more serious injuries – or worse – out of the spotlight. Among those who immediately come to mind for Lindop are friend Cheree Buchiw, who lost her lower leg in a 2003 fall, and Michelle Le Vars, who as a 21-year-old in 1992 became a paraplegic as a result of her first race fall. She also cited Simone Montgomerie, the 27-year-old who died in a fall in last year's Darwin Cup.
"I do actually realise I'm pretty lucky," she said.
For such reasons Lindop, who is also vice-president of the SA Jockeys Association, is a passionate supporter of the National Jockeys' Trust, the national welfare-focused organisation which will hold its main annual fundraising day on August 2.
Even without injury, however, life as a jockey can be deceptively hard. While Lindop is not a "carnival jockey like a G.Boss or D.Oliver" she is typically engaged for between 400 and 500 races a year. Most of her peers sit at the other end of the ladder, with a professional life that includes less certainty with regards to rides, more and further travel, inferior venues to the recognised metropolitan venues and, even during their race wins, inferior pay-days.
"I'm really conscious of the fact there's 800-odd jockeys in Australia and probably over 50 per cent earn $50,000 or under, and when you're trying to raise a family it can be quite a hard life. I do think there's probably unsung heroes of the industry ... doing the hard yards."
Lindop reckons the stint out of the saddle has made her more patient and improved her perspective, so as she would likely cope better with any subsequent stints away from racing.
It also served as a reminder of why, despite media questions to the contrary, she never contemplated not returning to being a jockey.
"It did actually remind me of the passion that I had when I was 10," she said.
While it is unlikely that passion even really left Lindop, it is most certainly back – in full.