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Harrison Shaw jockey with eczema allergic to horses defies odd after drug trial

A jockey who is allergic to horses has defied the odds to become a top racer after taking part in a miracle drug trial. 

Harrison Shaw, 23, always dreamed of becoming a jockey but his eczema meant any contact with horses would leave him covered in painful sores.

His parents Andy and Debbie, of Easingwold, North Yorkshire, kept horses throughout his childhood, but were devastated by the effect they had on him.

Desperate to help him achieve his dream they encouraged him to take part in an allergy research trial four years ago.

Harrison Shaw, 23, always dreamed of becoming a jockey but his eczema meant any contact with horses would leave him covered in painful sores. He has now ridden 39 winners 

A young Harrison Shaw is pictured with one of his horses

A young Harrison Shaw is pictured with one of his horses 

Within six weeks of starting the programme, Harrison had become an apprentice jockey.


Eczema is an inflammatory condition of the skin that leads to redness, blistering, oozing, scaling and thickening.

It usually appears in the first few months of life and affects around 10 per cent of babies.

Eczema’s cause is not fully understood but it is thought to be brought on by the skin’s barrier to the outside world not working properly, which allows irritants and allergy-inducing substances to enter.

It may be genetic due to the condition often running in families.

As well as their skin being affected, sufferers may experience insomnia and irritability.

Many factors can make eczema worse. These may include:

  • Heat, dust, soap and detergents
  • Being unwell, such as having a cold
  • Infections
  • Dry skin
  • Stress

There is no cure for eczema, however, 70 per cent of childhood sufferers no longer have the condition in their teens.

Patients should avoid known triggers for flare ups and use emollients.

Source: British Skin Foundation 

Now on 39 winners, his allergy levels have reduced to just 30 per cent. 

He said: ‘I am allergic to horses as I’ve got an overactive immune system and uncontrolled atopic dermatitis.

‘I’ve had allergic reactions all my life, not just with horses, with dogs, cats, bark, pollen and trees. 

‘It’s an awful thing as they are all around you, but much worse if your dream job is to be a jockey.

‘I struggled with it a lot when I was younger and got to a point when I was in hospital most of the time and couldn’t really start race riding until about three years ago.

‘As a youngster and then a teenager I was coming out in these awful sores and with your skin open all the time you are getting infections.

‘When it came up to my GCSEs at an impressionable age it was awful, I was spending a week in hospital at a time.

‘It was half my time at school and half my time in hospital – the stress was awful and that didn’t help the condition.

‘Before I was put on that drug four years ago I was bleeding all the time. It was shockingly bad for anybody, but probably even worse due to my age when everything is magnified in those teenage years.

‘Without it I’d never have been able to do this job and I absolutely love it.’

Harrison was in and out of hospital as a child with uncontrolled atopic dermatitis and though he loved the racehorses, which his grandfather Kenneth Shaw owned, the family discovered he was 100 per cent allergic to them.

Pictured: Harrison Shaw after one of his 39 wins

Pictured: Harrison Shaw after one of his 39 wins 

As his school GCSEs and A levels approached Harrison was spending as much time in a hospital bed as he was at his classroom desk as the severe eczema hit hard.

His childhood dreams of working in racing where looking distant until under the treatment of Professor Mike Cork, a leading authority on the condition, he was put on a trial four years ago for a new monoclonal antibody drug Dupilumab.

Then, just a year after signing up to the trial he won his first race, and looks set for further success.  

Professor Cork, Consultant Dermatologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trusts and head of Dermatology Research at the University of Sheffield, said: ‘Harrison was totally allergic to horses. What has happened is the most amazing thing.

In action: Harrison is pictured competing in a showjumping tournament

In action: Harrison is pictured competing in a showjumping tournament 

‘Harrison was the first on the clinical trial we did over 4 years ago. He is so dedicated to his horseracing that it is remarkable that his allergy to horses has gone from more than 100 per cent to less than 30 per cent – he can even hug a horse now.

‘To put it into context the condition can take over your life, leave you moribund, unable to work, unable to move, unable to sleep and often destroys relationships as well as causing severe depression. 

‘This is no trivial disease and I see just how devastating it can be for so many people.

‘One patient gave me a very graphic analogy about the itch they suffered, they said ‘imagine you’ve been bitten by a mosquito, then imagine you’ve been bitten by a million mosquitos and they keep biting you every minute of every day’ – that’s how bad it can be.

‘In Harrison’s case it was over 100 per cent of his body and it’s like third degree burns, so he was really ill when he was in our hospital.

‘To make it possibly worse was the fact that Harrison dreamed of being a jockey, but was allergic to horses. 

‘Then within six weeks of going on the Dupilumab trial his dream of becoming an apprentice jockey came true and 12 months after he had won his first race.

‘The results of the clinical trials we undertook showed that 38 per cent of patients with this particularly severe form of eczema achieved clear, or almost clear skin, after 16 weeks.’ 

The drug used in the trial is called Dupilumab and has now been approved for use on adult NHS patients with moderate to severe skin allergies. Further research is required for use on children.  


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