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How does one become a jockey?
Horse Jockey. Source: Midjourney

How does one become a jockey?

Overview of a Horse Jockey's Role

Horse jockeys blend physical strength, skill, and a passion for competition into the thrilling world of horse racing. Pursuing a career as a jockey requires meeting specific criteria and following a structured path. This article outlines the essential skills and responsibilities of a jockey and provides a step-by-step guide to entering the profession.

What is a Jockey?

A jockey is a professional athlete who rides racehorses in competitive events. Jockeys may work independently, riding horses on a freelance basis, or they might be under contract with particular horse owners. A jockey’s demand is often linked to their track record; the more successful their history, the higher their demand. Jockeys can specialise in different types of racing, such as thoroughbred or quarter-horse racing.

Horse Jockey. Source: Midjourney
Horse Jockey. Source: Midjourney

Responsibilities of a Jockey

Jockeys manage several critical aspects that contribute to their success on race day, including:

- Competing in various racing trials and events.

- Participating in regular practice and specialised training sessions.

- Assessing each horse’s abilities to develop effective racing strategies.

- Analysing footage from past races and practice sessions to improve performance and understand how to ride different horses effectively.

- Observing competitors’ races to gauge their capabilities.

- Collaborating with horse owners and trainers to devise winning strategies based on factors like course layout, weather, track conditions, and competition.

- Discussing race or exercise performance with trainers.

- Reporting potential performance issues to stewards or racing authorities.

- Maintaining fitness through rigorous gym workouts to meet weight requirements.

- Taking care of riding equipment, such as saddles and boots.

- Participating in promotional activities, including press conferences, interviews, or TV appearances.

- Complying with all rules and regulations associated with horse racing.

Horse Jockey. Source: Midjourney
Horse Jockey. Source: Midjourney

Skills and Requirements for Jockeys

Jockeys must possess extensive knowledge of horse breeding, training, performance, anatomy, and grooming. These skills are typically acquired through hands-on experience in stables, working with specific horses, and collaborating with trainers. Additionally, jockeys need to be physically fit, agile, and athletic to manage horses at high speeds. Essential skills include balance, competitiveness, and the ability to remain composed in fast-paced scenarios.

Jockeys must also adhere to specific physical requirements for competition. Racing authorities usually restrict the combined weight of the jockey and their equipment (like the saddle) to between 118 and 122 pounds. Consequently, most jockeys maintain a weight between 100 and 118 pounds through strict diet and exercise regimens. There are no height requirements, but jockeys typically range between 4-foot-10 and 5-foot-6 to help achieve the necessary weight goals.

Work Environment for Jockeys

The work environment for jockeys varies based on their experience and specialisation. Apprentice jockeys often live near stables and perform duties such as grooming horses and cleaning stalls, in addition to their training. Established jockeys may work long hours, especially on race days, preparing themselves and their horses, often working 45 to 50 hours a week. Depending on their skill, win record and recognition, jockeys might participate in up to 1,000 races per year. During winter, they might ride in three races daily, while in the summer peak season, they could compete in up to 12 races a day.

Races are generally held outdoors but can also occur on indoor tracks. Outdoor races can be affected by weather conditions such as rain, wind, or extreme temperatures. Jockeys also spend time in the gym or engaging in outdoor workouts to build strength and stamina.

Racehorses can reach speeds between 40 and 55 miles per hour, making the competition intense and fast. Despite the risks of injury from falls, proper training and control significantly reduce these hazards.

Steps to Becoming a Jockey

1. Learn to Ride Horses:

Start riding horses as early as possible to build a foundation for a jockey career. If you have no prior experience, consider taking lessons or attending riding camps to learn the basics of mounting, balancing, and controlling a horse. This early exposure will help determine if a career with horses is right for you.

2. Conduct Research:

Studying footage of past races and competitors is part of a jockey’s routine. Watching videos or live races and reading jockey interviews can help you understand the skills and styles needed for racing.

3. Begin a Career in the Equestrian Field:

Gain experience by working in a stable as a stable hand or groomer, or at racetracks as a hot walker, responsible for cooling down horses after races. This hands-on experience helps you network within the industry and learn essential skills.

4. Attend Jockey School:

While not mandatory, attending a jockey school like the North American Racing Academy in Kentucky can be beneficial. The program offers a two-year degree focusing on horse care, nutrition, fitness, and technology, preparing you to apply for a journeyman jockey licence.

5. Complete an Apprenticeship:

Train under a professional jockey to learn racing safety and rules. Apprenticeships provide practical experience and may be required to meet additional state regulations for a jockey licence, such as working a set number of hours in a stable or passing a written exam. Apprenticeships can last up to four years, and you must be at least 16 years old to begin, depending on state regulations.

6. Compete in Schooling Races:

Participate in formal training races sponsored by racetracks to learn essential racing skills. States may require completion of a specific number of schooling races before you can obtain a competitive racing licence.

7. Earn Your Journeyman Jockey Licence:

After completing your training or apprenticeship and meeting state requirements, apply for a competitive racing licence, allowing you to race professionally as a journeyman jockey.

8. Hire an Agent:

An agent can help you find job opportunities, connect with horse owners and trainers, and negotiate better contracts or pay rates.

9. Join the Jockey’s Guild:

The Jockey's Guild offers benefits like collective bargaining, life insurance, disability benefits, and advocacy for safe working conditions. Membership involves paying annual dues and mounting fees for each racehorse ridden.

Horse Jockey. Source: Midjourney
Horse Jockey. Source: Midjourney

By following these steps, aspiring jockeys can pursue a successful career in the thrilling world of horse racing.

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