Becoming a professional jockey for many horse fans is the ultimate dream.
Crossing the finished line of the most prestigious horse races and being cheered by the crowd are moments that are reserved for the elite riders.
This dream can be achieved with the right steps and determination.
Continue reading below for our guide on how to become a professional jockey.
The competition to become an elite jockey is extremely difficult and competitive.
The career is expensive, and getting to a high level that is required is very challenging. With determination, hard work, talent, and most importantly a great attitude, it can be done.
Unfortunately, unlike other countries, there is only one professional jockey school in the United States – the North American Racing Academy.
The academy teaches aspiring jockeys the techniques and rules of professional racing along with how to care for horses, courses in nutrition, fitness, and technology.
However, due to the limited number of places, the application process for the academy is long, difficult and very competitive.
Each year only 12 riders are accepted to the program.
There is another way to gain specific training for equestrian jobs and this with riding from a young age.
Firstly, in a hope to become a professional jockey it is necessary to be introduced to the equestrian environment from an early age and learn horse riding techniques in order to practice.
From the age of 16 years and upwards, it is possible to enroll at an apprentice school or join a trainer.
It is also the legal age when you can start riding in competitive races.
It is normally necessary for an apprentice jockey to ride a minimum of about 20 barrier trial races successfully before being permitted to start riding in races.
After a 4 year apprenticeship, the apprentice becomes a senior jockey and would usually develop relationships with trainers and individual horses.
Sometimes senior jockeys are paid a sum of money by an owner which gives the owner the right to insist the jockey rides their horses in races.
- Learn how to read a horse racing program.
- Read our calendar of big upcoming horse races.
- Start betting on horse races online at TVG (18/21+, check your state).
Along with professional ridding education, there are physical criteria’s that apply to the job of a professional jockey.
These include weight and height restrictions.
The weight criteria for an elite rider depends on what type of racing you want to pursue either flat racing or jumps.
In the US, for flat racing, a jockey’s weight needs to be around 110 lbs/50kgs. For jumps, the weight needs to be 136 lbs/62kgs in order to secure work from trainers.
In the US the weight requirements tend to be 3/4 lbs lighter then Europe or Australia.
To stay light it means that jockeys have to keep a strict diet in competition season and stay disciplined if they want to work.
Despite their lightweight, they must be able to control a horse that is moving at 40 mph (64 km/h) and weighs around 540 kg.
While your weight is more important than your height, there are some restrictions since your height will govern your weight and aerodynamics in the saddle.
Normally, jockeys are around the height 5 ft 3 or 4 inches.
However, two of racing’s greatest jockeys Lester Piggott and Richard Hughes were 5ft 7 inches and 5ft 10 inches tall respectively.
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A Man’s World?
In the past, the life of a professional rider has been reserved for men. However, since the 1990’s there has been a huge influx in the number of women who pursue the life of a professional rider.
According to the North American Racing Academy, the freshmen class of 2013 had 12 aspiring jockeys, 11 of whom were women.
Nevertheless, today only 16 percent of licensed jockeys in the United States are female, and of the top 100 jockeys right now, only two are women.
The life of a jockey
The life of a jockey is extremely rewarding but also very demanding.
In the ‘off’ season for horse racing, a jockey may ride on average 3 different races each day. However, in the height of summer, a normal day can involve riding in 12 races per day.
On average a jockey works 45-50 hours per week not including taking care of the horses and mucking out the stalls.
A normal day for a jockey is usually waking just before 5 am and not resting until 11 pm at night.
In regards to payment, jockeys are normally considered self-employed, then they are nominated by horse trainers to ride their horses in races.
Their riding fee is paid regardless of the prize money for any race and the jockey will also receive a percentage of the purse winnings.
The video below is a short documentary of ‘A day in the life of a Jockey’ which features jockey Jerry Bailey, winner of several Triple Crown Races.
His performances at the Kentucky Derby in 1993 and 1996 are forever remembered in modern Derby history.