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What Does a Horse Racing Jockey Do?

Jockeys ride racehorses.
A horse racing jockey must be able to control horses while moving at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour.
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  • Written By: Vicki Hogue-Davies
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2014
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A horse racing jockey is a professional athlete who rides racehorses in quarter-mile and longer races. Horse racing jockeys must be extremely strong and fearless to control horses many times their size while moving at speeds of up to 40 miles (64 km) per hour. Horse racing jockeys typically are self-employed and are contracted by horse trainers and owners to ride in races. Very successful jockeys might ride as many as 10 horses in a day. Jockeys often are represented by agents who negotiate the best mounts for them.

Horse racing jockeys normally specialize in a type of racing, such as thoroughbred racing, quarter horse racing or steeplechase. In thoroughbred and quarter horse racing, jockeys ride around oval rings of varying lengths. The steeplechase horse racing jockey must know how to jump as well as ride on flat ground; the sport includes various fences and ditches that the horse and jockey navigate at high speed.

Before races, the horse racing jockey confers with the trainers of the horses that he or she will ride to learn about their behavior and temperament. Jockeys also work with trainers to develop strategies for riding races successfully. As part of developing their racing strategies, jockeys often familiarize themselves with the characteristics and records of the horses and jockeys against whom they are racing.

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Jockeys are paid a jock mount fee, which is a fee for each horse they race. They typically also receive a percentage of the purse for winning (first), placing (second), or showing (third). The percentage of the winnings that jockeys receive is higher for a win than for a show.

Horse racing jockeys typically must be licensed to ride in the sport. In the United States, for example, licensing is controlled by individual states. Generally, the requirements to become licensed include having experience, being in good physical condition and being a minimum of 16 years old, although the minimum age is higher in some states. Jockeys learn the sport through on-the-job training and by attending jockey schools. They often start out as apprentices before becoming full-fledged jockeys.

Being a horse racing jockey is not an easy career. Besides the obvious danger involved, one of the most difficult aspects of being a horse racing jockey is maintaining a low weight. Weights for horse racing jockeys vary by type of racing and tracks, but many jockeys are expected to weigh less than 120 pounds (54 kg). If they exceed maximum weight, they will not be hired to ride.

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indigomoth
Post 3

@pastanaga - I think it was always tradition for a camel jockey to be a child in some countries. It goes back to a time when the lot of children, particularly poor children, was different.

It just took them a while to catch up with the attitudes that are expected towards children now, in most of the world.

It used to be that horse racing jockeys were much younger as well. The maximum age is a relatively recent phenomenon for horse racing entries.

I have always found it kind of interesting that a jockey is hired for each race, and might not know the horse all that well. I always thought of it as kind of a romantic thing to do, and that you would form a bond with the horse.

But they wouldn't be able to do that if there wasn't much contact with the horse before or after the race. You'd just have to hope that the horse was well trained and that it liked you well enough to do its best in the races.

pastanaga
Post 2

@bythewell - Some jockeys do worry overly much and go to extreme lengths to lower their weight, of course. But they also have to stay strong, so they can't do too much or they might fall off the horse and that would be much worse than weighing an extra few grams.

I know in camel racing for a while they had no minimum age in some countries and they could even starve the children involved rather than let them gain too much weight.

But there was such an outcry when this was revealed that finally they decided to abolish camel jockeys altogether and now the camels are ridden by a standard sized robot.

In a way, I think this is fairer as there is no weight advantage and you really get to see which of the animals is the best.

But I also think it's a shame they couldn't simply be honorable about it and only use adult jockeys rather than trying to one up each other with more and more extremely light ones.

bythewell
Post 1

I can see why you'd want the minimum age to be as high as possible. When there is a maximum weight involved in a sport and when the smaller your size and the lighter you are, the more advantage you have, there is plenty of motive for bad behavior.

I mean, look at what often happens to girls who get involved in gymnastics and ballet at an early age. Often they are encouraged to diet and work hard enough to keep them small, so that they can look better and perform better.

Even 16 is pushing it, I think, because at that age a person can still affect their future growth but they might not care if they think it will help them win.

I think as well as a maximum weight they should have a minimum weight that a jockey can be.

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