The first time I watched a horse race on television, I wondered what it takes to be a horse jockey. It seemed fun as well as risky. I was attracted to the thrill. It would be so much glee and amusement if I did this.
I thought this was like electric bull riding, where you only have to hold the grip tight with one hand, squeeze your legs against the bull but keep your upper body flexing. Something else that struck my eye is I did not see any heavyweight horseman or woman.
Most horse jockeys were small in size and short. I thought this made sense because a horse jockey cannot be heavier than the horse itself. Well, that would mean crashing the horse, right?
And how would you handle a racehorse if you are too tiny and feeble? Wouldn’t you be blown off by the wind when the horse is on high speed racing down?
This prompted research on what it takes to be a jockey. How big do you have to be? How much should you weigh? How tall should you be?
Misconception on Height
One of the uncommon facts about jockeys is that given their short stature, it is commonly believed that jockeys have a height limit. People believe you have to be short to be a horse rider.
This misconception is because short people usually have very low weight but are still very strong. Being light in weight means less work for the horse as it does not have too much pressure on its back.
The less the horse carries means it can run much faster. Another reason the jockeys have to be small is to level the field by putting more weight on faster horses and less on slower horses.
Horse jockeys are believed to stunt their growth to the size of an adolescent child. This is because adding extra pounds will rule you out of a million-dollar race. There is no height limit in horse racing as long as you meet the weight requirement.
The weight limit is put in place to minimize the mass impact on a horse. For example, in the Kentucky Derby, a jockey has a weight limit of 126 pounds.
The average weight of a horse jockey is about 115 pounds. Since the average height is between 4 foot 10 inches to 5 foot 6 inches, does it mean you cannot be a jockey if you are taller than that?
Well, it is evident that over the years, there have been some super tall jockeys. For example, Stuart Brown, who was the tallest in Australia’s history, had a height of 6 feet 3 inches.
He meets the weight requirements and is, therefore, able to participate in the competition. Johnny Sellers (Johnny Sellers) is the tallest jockey ever to win the Kentucky Derby.
He is five feet tall and a quarter-inch tall. Other tall jockeys include Richard Hudges from England, 5’10” tall, Louise Moeller from Denmark, 6’1″ tall, and former NBA player Manute Bol, 7’7 inches tall. In history, the world’s smallest jockey was a 15-year-old Kenneth Glover.
He was so tiny that the bundles of straw he carried to the nearby stables to feed the horses would nearly bury him. He was only 4 feet tall.
This proves height is not a factor in being a professional jockey, but weight is.
Weight On and Off the Horse
You must be curious about what happens if a jockey increases their weight or reduces it. Do you stop being a jockey and watch on the sidelines like everyone else?
Is it the end of a career? In the beginning, when the weight of a jockey increases, it means too much pressure on the horse, May exert temporary lameness or even cause muscle pain on a horse which in turn leads to the reduced speed of the racehorse.
This is simple physics. However, being overweight does not always mean you are excluded from a race. The horses are assigned a specific amount of weight to carry during a race.
If the jockey is overweight, it is announced to the race-bettors or punters and permitted before the race begins. Before mounting on the horse, the horse jockey will step on the scales and check how much they weigh.
If he or she is lighter than the minimum weight assigned to the horse, a metal weight will be appended to comply with the designated amount. Weight adding could also be in the form of saddles and pads to make up for the missing weight.
After completion of the race, the jockey will be weighed again to confirm that the weight was correct during the run.
You might be wondering why it is important to weigh the horse before and after the race. Can there be a possibility of a jockey not weighing the same weight as they were before?
It is common to have a difference of less than a pound. The dissimilarity is dependent on weather conditions and is allowed. Should the jockey weigh more than a pound over or under what he or she weighed in the first place, you are reported to the Clerk of the scales, and the horse is disqualified from the race, and the rider is penalized.
Keeping Weight at Bay
Since the horse jockeys have to weigh themselves before the beginning of a horse race and have the necessary mass to qualify for the race, it means they must try hard with a lot of health caution and discipline to maintain the weight required.
Most of the jockeys are said to have an eating disorder as they have to keep their drastic low weight. It is not uncommon for them to use low diet pills, saunas, and extreme exercise routines for them to maintain the typically required weight.
Other methods to maintain weight used by the horse jockeys include:
- Flipping– This is where the athlete vomits into a bowl to remove the excess food eaten.
- Skipping meals- The jockeys skip meals to lose weight.
- Laxatives– They use medication that helps stimulate bowel movements.
- Diuretics– This is a way to dehydrate the body and lose water weight.
- Smoking– I have never seen a jockey without a cigarette. They are always ready for a smoke. Tobacco is used to reduce their appetite by decreasing metabolic efficiency and absorption of calories.
Efforts to reduce weight have caused some serious health problems that are either short-term or long-term. Over the years, doctors have provided diet modifications that will be beneficial to the horse jockeys.
However, the best effective adjustment is to increase the weight that the horses can carry. This will mean less diet suppletion for the athletes
In my exploration, I learned that female jockeys are not as common as the male ones. I came across a 27-year-old woman who is determined to be top of the game in a world full of men. Sammy Jo is a big dreamer.
She is 112 pounds, and riding in the top horse races is a big challenge for everyone, but for her, a woman means she has to work extra hard and make sacrifices to hike her career.
The sacrifices include spending long hours in the saddle, staying out until late at night, and raising very early in the morning.
This also means a strict diet and an intense workout regime. To have a breakthrough in male-dominated sports, females face other obstacles of having the shear strength required of a jockey.
The horses weigh more than 1200 pounds, and you have to be able to support yourself and be in a crouched position for about 5 minutes. Racehorses are taught to lean on the reins for support and balance.
This means a jockey must be able to support the additional weight. It is determination and grit that make successful jockeys.
Physically looking, you can assume a jockey is weak, tiny or small. However, it takes grit, strength, and a lot of power to be such an athlete. Having known the weight requirements, horse racing is not child’s play.
The jockey needs to be slim, strong, and flexible. It is said that jockey is the most suitable athlete in the world. They must not only be physically strong but also have the skills to manipulate the entire horse during the race.
The jockey should have courage. They should be brave enough to ride at high speeds. This is because horses may be unpredictable, and the jockey should be able to remain calm, that is, to hold the horse in difficult times.