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Jockey  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotJockeys are an essential part of the horse racing industry. These are the people who ride the horses in all those races.

A jockey guides the horse through the race, relying on experience and racing strategy. The jockey must be sure not to break the horse's rhythm, must encourage it to run faster and must not fall off! The average race lasts less than 90 seconds.

After the race, the jockey has a talk with the horse's trainer. They discuss how the race went and how to improve in the next race.

dotRiding can be dangerous. There are 2,500 injuries and an average of two fatalities every year.

For some protection, the rider wears a flak jacket and a helmet. "Silks" -- the horse owner's logo and colors -- are worn on top to make it easier to identify the jockey and horse when they are out on the track.

dotJockeys have agents who take a cut of their earnings. The agents set up owners and trainers with the jockeys, in much the same way as a talent agent gets a performer booked into a club or theater.

Jockeys also give a cut of their earnings to their valets. The valet cleans the jockey's uniforms and equipment, and saddles up the horses for each race. This leaves the jockey free to concentrate on riding.

dotThe number one qualification to become a jockey is a low weight. If you weigh over 115 pounds, there's not much chance anyone will want you on their horse.

Many jockeys start their careers by doing simple jobs around the stables, such as shoveling manure. This gives them a chance to make some contacts in the racing industry. Getting to know someone in the business is key to getting hired as a jockey.

dotAspiring jockeys start riding at an early age, exercising or "galloping" horses. A rider who is good with horses and is very small may eventually get a chance to try their luck in a race.

Quite often, jockeys start riding on breeding farms. John Giovanni of the Jockeys' Guild says breaking yearlings -- young horses that have not been ridden -- is a sure way to find out if riding is for you. Along the way, you learn how to handle horses.

dotRiders must apprentice for a full year before they can be called jockeys. Even so, many apprentices make good money.

Women are still a minority, but that may change. "Horse racing is probably the only sport where the women compete at the exact same level as the men," says Giovanni.

dotIf you don't meet the weight requirements or have what it takes to be a jockey, there are plenty of other things you can do on the "backside." The backside concerns the work of the valets, the grooms, the exercisers, the outriders and the ponyriders.

Outriders are the two people who ride, one in front of the group and one at the back, during the post-race parade and warm-up. They watch for any horses that might get out of control. The outriders will help the jockey round up or control the race horse if it takes off.

Ponyriders, meanwhile, ride alongside the jockey and race horse during the warm-up lap. The presence of the ponyrider's horse calms the race horse during the warm-up. All of these jobs involve being around and riding horses.

At a Glance

Ride race horses to win money and fame

  • Low weight and horse sense are the two key qualifications
  • Riding can be dangerous
  • On-the-job experience is the only way to ride