Are You up for the Challenge?
Being a jockey is a highly dangerous occupation, while the average jockey is 5'3” and 114 pounds the average thoroughbred racehorse is 16.1 hands, the equivalent of 5'5” at their withers, and weighing in at a whopping 1,100 pounds. It is the jockey's responsibility to handle and control this large, energetic and sometimes flighty animal from the minute he\she is hoisted onto the horse's back in the paddock until after saluting the stewards and hopping off at the races conclusion.
Does Size Really Matter?
To be a jockey it will be in your favor to be small in stature as it's easier to make the weight restrictions. Although there are those few riders who are taller than the average 5'3” and are able through vigilant measures to manage their weight. However keep in mind, extreme weight reduction comes with a price, your strength and overall health may be diminished.
Be Fast Thinking and Fearless in the Face of Danger
You will need to be brave to perch on the back on a horse who is running 40 miles per hour, but not reckless. A jockey needs to be able to make critical decisions at a fraction of a second, your life and those of the other riders and horses could be at stake if you make the wrong one. You'll need to be able to manage your nerves in these situations as the horse will be following your lead. If you're tense and panicky the horse will pick up on it too, so you'll need to remain calm and focused.
Injury is Part of the Game
The hard reality of being a jockey that you must accept is that you will get hurt. It's not a matter of if but of when. Everything from pulled muscles, broken bones, concussions, paralysis and even death are a possibility, as is the case in most professional sports. It's an inevitable truth but one you must face and then put out of your mind. You can't dwell on it or it will effect your riding. Focusing on it will make you timid which can be just as dangerous as being reckless.
Braving the Elements
Jockeys work in all types of weather; sun, wind, rain, and even snow. They're up every morning at the crack of dawn galloping and working horses, riding races in the afternoon and at some racetracks riding races at night under the lights. You'll need to brave the elements, the flying dirt, and even the horses themselves. You'll get tired, you'll be bruised and bumped and at times get slammed around in the metal starting gates by overexcited and claustrophobic horses who are anxious to get out.
Getting Fit the Right Way
Jockeys need to be strong and physically fit. Fitness and endurance can always be improved through running and the lifting of weights. Flexibility and balance can be enhanced with yoga and martial arts. But because there's no substitute for race riding to get you in racing shape, an Equicizer is a good investment. An Equicizer is a machine that simulates riding a horse with a neck that bobs and a barrel that moves up and down. You use the same muscles that racing requires so it's the next best thing to actually doing it. While on the Equicizer it's an excellent opportunity to practice switching your whip from hand to hand without dropping it or losing valuable contact with the horse's mouth.
The most obvious question is, “Can you ride?” You need to ride a lot, as many different horses as you possibly can so you improve your seat and feel. If you ride Western switch to English, it's closer to the racing style, then shorten your stirrups to get used to the change in balance. However there's no need to despair if you can't ride as there are recognized jockey schools that teach you the fundamentals of professional race riding, horse care, rules of racing and fitness. They accept all capable students with the only restriction being a maximum height of 5'6” and a weight of no more than 114 pounds. Some even offer financial assistance to qualifying students.
Getting to Work
Once you've made your decision, it's time to seek out work experience. Find someone who's involved in the training of racehorses and start at the bottom if necessary as a groom and work your way up to exercise rider. As an exercise rider you'll gallop the horses in the mornings and eventually learn to breeze them and work them from the starting gates.
Ride, Listen and Learn
When other riders hear that you want to be a jockey they'll offer you advice. Listen to them, they're not trying to steer you wrong. They understand that once you've achieved your goal and acquired your jockey license, you'll be out on the racetrack riding in races with them. They want you to be ready because if you're not it could be disastrous for everyone involved.
So as you can see being a jockey isn't really very glamorous at all but involves a lot of hard work and sheer determination. And like all professional athletes it requires sacrifice and dedication to achieve success. But it is possible. So if you’re still not deterred then by all means, pursue your dreams!
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