There can be little doubt that in both professional horse racing and equestrianism, the jockey plays an absolutely essential role. Although the majority of budding riders are likely to have a fairly decent command of the basics, there are a number of factors which are an absolute necessity. Successful jockeys have worked tirelessly throughout their careers and are also forced to make a number of sacrifices in order to stay at the top of their game. We take a look at three crucial skills which are absolutely critical for students of the sport.
Although this is a pre-requisite of any professional sport, jockeys must ensure that they don’t let their fitness levels drop at any stage. In order to control a fast-moving thoroughbred or quarter-horse, riders must have ample strength and endurance, most of which has been built up over a number of years. Core strength is an absolute must, and the fitness tests for both UK and North American jockeys are suitably formidable.
Both lower body and upper body strength exercises are highly recommended with press-ups, squats and the plank quickly becoming part of a jockey’s daily routine. HIIT training is also on the agenda, whilst the dreaded bleep test has been a staple of the official fitness testing program for a number of years.
In order to stay aboard a half-ton animal, riders must be able to keep control using their core. Being able to make a speedy recovery following a heavy landing is also a beneficial by-product of keeping in shape. Adhering to a strict diet will also help keep jockeys at the top of their game and professionals such as Jose Ortiz, Christophe Soumillon and Andrea Atzeni rarely deviate from their daily routines, thus helping to ensure longevity in the saddle.
Race Reading Ability
Although bettors and handicappers tend to focus on a number of factors before placing a wager, ensuring that your chosen horse is partnered by a competent jockey is absolutely key. An experienced campaigner will be familiar with every single undulation of their preferred racetrack, and through years of experience, they will also have developed the canny ability to read a race.
Ensuring that they strike at the correct moment, and making sure that they play to the thoroughbred’s strengths are underrated facets of the sport. Most horses in North America will have a preferred racing style, front-runner, off-the-pace or a closer, and a competent rider will know the exact moment at which to gradually increase the intensity.
If you take a look at the next racing results to come out of Florida’s Gulfstream Park, you’re likely to see the likes of Luis Saez and Irad Ortiz Jr feature prominently. Although they are expected to be aboard plenty of favourites throughout the meet, they also have the knack of regularly improving average performers. Their ability to spot an opening or dictate the pace is invaluable, and it’s a skill which has been harnessed and honed over a number of seasons.
A 2009 study found that a talented rider can ‘athletically and artfully isolate themselves from the movements of their horses’. Doing this whilst managing to maintain the correct posture throughout the contest is also hugely beneficial.
Although there is often a misapprehension that taking up the crouching position is necessary in order to help a thoroughbred’s progress, slouching is far from recommended in these circumstances. It’s difficult to remain in control whilst hunched, and failing to maintain an adequate position may result in a jockey’s balance and poise going awry.
There are a number of requirements and skills which are indispensable for any budding jockeys. Rookie riders are bound to make plenty of mistakes along the way, however, by maintaining peak fitness, keeping a steady posture, and paying careful attention to a horse’s previous outings, newcomers can expect to see plenty of improvement in their future performances.