Like all sports, to do well, it is essential to stay in peak condition and maintain a very high fitness level. Although we can see that to be a marathon runner, sprinter or athlete of any description, a tennis player or a football star, the highest level of fitness is a must. But what about jockeys? The horse obviously needs to be in top condition, but how fit does a jockey actually have to be to ride the steed?
When you head to a bookie for the upcoming Irish Grand National betting, you might look at the horse’s form and fitness – but do you ever consider the form and fitness of the rider? Probably not. However, jockeys also have to be in top form…
The Importance of Strength
Although they are often small in stature, jockeys need to be strong throughout their whole bodies.
A jockey needs to be able to control a big and strong animal that can reach top speeds of more than 40 mph – and this can be hugely demanding. As such, making sure that the jockey stays in top physical condition can ensure that they avoid injury and can make the best decisions, especially when tiredness is starting to set in. The fitness levels of a jockey can balance that very fine line between winning and losing.
Many jockeys often ride up to ten times per day – and they will need to perform just as well in the last as they do in the first.
Wine and Beer Out the Window
The jockey’s commitment to staying in top condition is vital now, but this hasn’t always been the case. There were often stories of champagne flowing in the locker room, with riders necking bottles of beer before they took to the racecourse. However, this boozy lifestyle wouldn’t get you far these days.
It is becoming ever more competitive – and now jockeys simply can’t get away with it anymore. The sport is simply much too competitive now to be anything other than dedicated, focused and supremely fit. They always need to be in full control and to be able to hold the horse together.
In particular, jockeys need a lot of strength in their legs, especially when pushing the horse forward. A strong core is also essential as you need to keep your spine and pelvis in line and balanced.
It can also be physically demanding, and when you are running out of breath, you need stamina. It’s a lot more physically tough than many people realise.
A Full Body Workout
Jockeys these days need to pass a fitness test in order to be granted a professional license – and this isn’t an easy one either. It mainly focuses on exercises which focus on the muscles that are most integral to horse racing.
There is a bleep test to assess their cardio fitness. In addition, there are tests around leg exercises such as leg raises and squats as well as full-body exercises such as pull band routines, held press-ups, the plank plus additional exercises on a mechanical horse.
There will then be a scoring system awarding points based on how long they can do these exercises and a jockey will need to score 70% or more to pass.
This is a test of the whole body as the whole body works as the jockey performs, so all-around strength and fitness are a must.
Jockeys also need to make sure their weight stays low – as lighter loads are essential to the success of the horse. As such, jockeys generally keep their weight low by regularly participating in cardio exercises such as cycling, running and riding.
In the UK, for flat racing, a jockey can’t be lighter than 53kg – and ideally, the closer they are to that weight, the better as this lessens the load that the horse has to carry. However, during the flat racing season, in the middle of summer, the workload is so intense that finding enough time to exercise can be difficult. In addition, too much time in the gym can lead to injury and possibly more muscle and weight gain.
So, to be a jockey, you need to be fit, strong and dedicated… and anything less simply isn’t good enough now.