While only a select group of individuals are able to meet the physical demands of being a jockey, it is one of the most high profile careers in the horse racing industry.Duties
A jockey’s primary role is to strategically ride their mount based on the trainer’s instructions, adapting the plan when necessary as the race progresses. A jockey can ride up to eight or nine races per day, five to six days per week. Most jockeys choose to base themselves at a specific track or regional area, though they usually accept assignments outside of their home base area when their services are requested.
Jockeys may also gallop horses in morning workouts to get a feel for them before the big event. Knowing a particular horse’s quirks can be an advantage on race day.
Jockeys must carefully follow a diet and exercise program to maintain their weight within specific limits. Usually standing five foot five or shorter, most jockeys weigh between 100 and 115 pounds to meet the weight assignments for their mounts. Major stakes races have higher weight limits (for example the weight carried in the Kentucky Derby is 126 pounds for rider and equipment). Lead weights are inserted into the saddle to bring the weight up to the desired amount.
Injuries are a constant cause of concern for jockeys, as they can’t earn income if they are unable to ride. Proper use and maintenance of safety equipment, such as helmets and protective vests, is vital to minimize the occurrence and severity of injuries.Career Options
While the majority of jockeys ride on flat racetracks, some do compete in steeplechase or hurdle races. These events involve riding Thoroughbreds on turf courses over fences.
Riding opportunities on the flat are available with a variety of racing breeds such as Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, and Arabians.
At the conclusion of their riding careers, many jockeys successfully transition to new positions such as trainers, sales agents, bloodstock agents, farm managers, and racing managers.Education
The North American Racing Academy (NARA), founded in 2006 by famous rider Chris McCarron, offers the only college degree earning opportunity for jockeys in the U.S. Students learn horsemanship and riding skills during the two year program centered in Lexington, KY.
The Racing Academy & Centre of Education in Kildare, Ireland, the South African Jockey Academy outside of Durban, and the Traintech International Equine Training Center on Australia’s Gold Coast offer international jockey training options.
In most jurisdictions, an aspiring jockey must be at least 16 years old and have previous experience riding horses in workouts to apply for an apprentice license. Written and oral exams may also be required before the racing board will grant a license.
During the apprentice period the new rider’s mounts are given a weight allowance, which can make apprentices more attractive to trainers despite their lack of experience. After a certain number of wins, usually 40, an apprentice is granted full jockey status.Salary
Jockeys earn a per mount fee $30 to $100. The top three finishers in a race earn a percentage of the horse’s winnings: 10% of winning horse’s earnings, and 5% of the second or third place horse’s earnings. Salary can obviously vary widely depending on how many winners a jockey rides. Travel and hotel costs may be paid by the horse’s owner if a rider is brought in from out of town.
A jockey must also pay his jockey agent a fee for finding and booking mounts. Jockey agents usually earn a 20% commission from the jockey’s pay. A jockey must also supply and replace personal riding equipment such as boots, riding breeches, helmets, and whips.
Insurance costs are also a big consideration for jockeys, as coverage does not come cheaply. Jockey insurance carries an extremely high premium due to the likelihood of injury.Job Outlook
According to the North American Racing Academy, there are approximately 1500 licensed jockeys in the U.S. That number is not expected to show much growth due to the relatively static number of tracks and racehorses competing in the United States, though there will be some turnover due to riders retiring or recovering from injuries.
Female jockeys have been entering the profession in greater numbers during the past decade, though race riding remains a male dominated field.