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 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.
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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.
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 jockey is not an easy career. Besides the obvious danger involved, one of the most difficult aspects of being a jockey is maintaining a low weight. Weights for 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.