Train to Become a Thoroughbred Horse Racing Jockey: Program Info
A racing jockey rides and controls the horse from a race start line to the finish, as well as works with a horse trainer to determine the best course of action in the race. Jockeys must know how to ride a horse, understand horse behavior and have racing experience before they can qualify for licensing. Most jockeys learn the trade by working their way up from an entry-level position in a stable and applying to become a licensed apprentice.
Training to Prepare for a Horse Racing Jockey Career
Jockeys often start at a relatively young age but the job is not easy; many work long hours and run several races in a day. The work is also dangerous, and riders are frequently injured on the job. For this reason, jockeys must be thoroughly knowledgeable of riding, have a love of working with horses and be familiar with the horse racing industry.
Learning to Ride Horses
In order to learn the basics of horseback riding and become familiar with horse behavior, prospective jockeys may start by taking private lessons through a local stable or join a local 4-H horse care club. Many students interested in working with horses start at a young age - sometimes as early as six years old. There are several different riding styles typically offered to students, including English, Western and stunt riding. Individuals interested in becoming a thoroughbred horse racing jockey may study English style flat riding. In addition to basic riding skills, riding students often learn aspects of basic horse care and horse behavior analysis.
College programs devoted exclusively to training jockeys are somewhat rare in the United States; however, the North American Racing Academy (NARA) features a 2-year training program for aspiring jockeys. Students interested in pursuing this training must have completed a high school diploma or GED prior to enrollment. This program is not an absolute requirement to be trained as a jockey.
A few universities offer post-graduate certificate, bachelor's degree and master's degree programs in equine science or equine business. These programs focus more on the business aspect of horse breeding or racetrack management and less on training to be a jockey.
Other Horse-Related Work
Many potential jockeys begin their career working in horse stables or participating in programs offered through a local 4-H club. They may start working as a groom or stable hand, feeding and grooming horses, as well as checking them for health problems, walking horses to cool down after races and cleaning their stalls. With experience, an aspiring jockey can be promoted to exercise rider on a racetrack. Exercise riders warm a horse up in the morning before a race, monitor the horse for behavioral issues and report observed health problems to the horse trainer.
Licensure Requirements for a Jockey
A student with some experience in horseback riding can usually obtain a license for a jockey apprenticeship at age 16, but specific age requirements vary according to state. In addition, some states require jockeys to be a certain weight; most trainers seek jockeys who weigh 120 pounds or less and can maintain that weigh in a healthy manner.
Many states require a physical exam to be performed annually or require that applicants submit a medical affidavit. Some states also require applicants to serve as a stable hand for a number of years, take an examination and complete a certain number of races before they qualify for an apprentice license. After running a number of races and slowly reducing the weight handicap allowance, an apprentice loses their apprenticeship status and becomes a journeyman jockey.
Physical Fitness Requirement
Most trainers expect that jockeys are in excellent physical shape and below a certain weight. As a result, jockeys have to carefully monitor their nutrition in order to maintain that weight. Though horseback riding itself is strenuous exercise, many jockeys engage in additional cardiovascular training and weight exercises in order to increase their balance, core strength, flexibility and stamina.
Horse racing is a dangerous occupation, even with safety equipment precautions such as helmets and support vests. For this reason, many tracks are starting to require safety reins - reins reinforced with a wire or nylon strap attached to a horse's bit - to reduce chances of catastrophic injuries should a rein break.
A jockey can become seriously or fatally injured if he or she loses control of a horse on the track or in the starting gate. Jockeys must therefore have years of previous experience around horses and understand how to control a horse. Apprentice jockeys must understand how to safely depart from the starting gate, navigate turns in the race and move among other horses. Many state licensing offices require potential apprentices to acquire a written affidavit from a registered horse trainer that certifies their skill and training in horse riding.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that athletes and sports competitors, which included jockeys, were predicted to see an employment increase of 22% from 2010-2020, which was faster than average. These professionals took in an average salary of $75,760 per year in May 2012, according to the BLS. However, there was a very large variance in wages. The bottom ten percent of athletes and sports competitors made $18,040 or less per year, while the top ten percent of professionals earned more than $187,199 annually.
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