How Do Jockeys Make Horses Go Faster?


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Have you noticed that certain jockeys ride an unusually high number of winners? Does the rider make the horse run faster? Or do the more successful jockeys ride the better horses? I did some research to find the answer.

Jockeys can and do make racehorses run faster. The unique movement of a rider on a horses’ back “drive” a horse faster by creating kinetic energy. All racehorse jockeys ride similarly, but some jockeys are better than other jockeys at making their horse run more quickly.

Although jockeys riding style can help a horse run faster, there is a lot more to riding a winning horse than how you sit on his back.

Study shows Jockeys can make a horse run faster.

A study was performed by a London-based research group that proves that Jockeys can make racehorses run faster. Jockeys play a significant role in the success of a horse during a race.

The London based study revealed that Jockeys extend and constrict their legs, transmitting vertical force with their body weight. With this action, the rider slightly overcompensates for the horse’s motion. This movement requires substantial mechanical work by the jockey.

The result is that the horse supports the weight of the jockey but does not expend energy moving the rider. The kinetic energy created by a jockey and horse might be slightly smaller than that of the horse alone, and the jockey could “drive” the horse faster.

The ability to drive a horse is possible because of the style of riding used by jockeys developed in America in the late 19th century.

The video below is an educational video used to show British jockeys the proper way to use a whip, but also illustrates riders positioning during a race.

Effective Use of the Whip

“Monkey crouch” revolutionized horse racing.

The “monkey crouch” was first used in racing by an American jockey named Todd Sloan. He brought the style to the United Kingdom in 1897 and revolutionized the world of horse racing.

The new style of riding didn’t have legs down the sides of his horse, but bent knees with his feet placed in raised in his stirrups. The British coined the new look “monkey crouch.” After the implementation of the “monkey crouch” style, horse racing times improved by 5-7%.

A jockey is approximately 13% of the weight of a racehorse. To carry a similar-sized bag of sand or a rider in a traditional non-crouch position takes the same amount of energy from a horse.

The weight doesn’t slow a horse; it is the forward transportation of the pressure that slows a horse. However, jockeys in a crouch position assist a racehorse during its running stride by the energy the rider creates.

Jockey movement reduces a horse’s workload.

A jockey riding in a crouch position propels his body forward with the horse, so the horse doesn’t expend energy moving the jockey. The work required by a rider during a race will have his heart near-maximum beats per minute.

The London based researchers were able to confirm their findings by measuring acceleration and displacement of horse and rider using the Global Positioning System and sensors on horses and jockeys. The sensors allowed calculations of up and down movement as well as the forward and aft movements.

The test showed that a jockey in a crouched position floated above a horses’ back, and saved the energy a horse uses typically to lift and propel a load when running.

Good horse racing Jockeys are fearless.

Good jockeys are smart, athletic, and fearless. Gamblers often say that the rider accounts for about 10 percent of a horse’s performance in a race. Jockeys can’t win on a mule, but they can influence good horses’ ability to succeed.

Top jockeys have a feel for the horses they ride, and they know their horses’ strengths and weaknesses. The best riders have a feel for when the horse is ready to make a move and is not scared to thread between horses. A good jockey must be fearless.

Top Jockeys know how to pace a horse.

Horses run uniquely. Some horses start slow and linger in the back of the pack before making a late move. Other horses break hard from the gate and settle into a rhythm in the front of the pack. A good jockey knows what pace works best for his mount.

Jockeys research the competition and track conditions.

Jockeys often research not only their mount but also the competition. They check the racing forms and watch videos. They get familiar with the track conditions, and all this information is processed and used during the race. Jockeys have to be smart.

Jockeys are small and wiry, but they are also strong and robust. Riders have to be strong to keep themselves balanced on their toes and control a 1,100-pound animal traveling at 40 mph.

To remain strong and fit a jockey has to eat right, workout and condition his body. Jockeys must be able to drop a couple of pounds quickly without losing strength. If you want to learn more about jockeys, read our other article here on what a jockey wears or our article on how big are horse jockeys.

Does Whipping a Horse Make It Run Faster?

When recently watching some horse racing I noticed most of the horses were whipped when crossing the finish line. This made me wonder if whipping racehorses make them faster.

A whip can’t make a horse run faster than it can run. Researchers in Australia studied whipping of horses in the last 400 meters of a horserace. What they concluded is there no correlation between beating a tired horse and winning races. You can read the study here.

The research focused on the speed of horses in the final stretch of the race. The tests proved only that tired horses being whipped by a jockey don’t run as fast or faster than a fresh horse. However, the test results are touted as proof that whipping a horse doesn’t help it run faster.

Whipping a horse can’t make it run faster.

If this is true, then what is the advantage of whipping a horse during a race? It’s a tool used to communicate with horses. The whip translates the message that it’s time to start running faster. Horses are trained to react to cues from riders.

Horse riders know a horse is encouraged to move out with leg pressure. You also can get him to pick up the pace with body positioning and slight kicks. But some horses need more encouragement, a little more leg pressure or a harder kick to get moving. Some horses even need to be ridden with spurs.

A whip encourages a horse to continue running.

The whip can be used; similarly, a jockey can show the horse the strap, hit him lightly or even firmly to encourage him to pick up the pace during a race. The frequency and force of the strikes tell the horse to run and keep running until I stop.

Some horses get a good break from the starting gate, and the jockey will ride him to the finish line without ever touching him with the whip. Other horses will only require encouragement by tapping his shoulder with the whip or placing it at the sight of the horse.

Some horses may show signs of fatigue or be maneuvered in and out of traffic on the course, and a jockey will whip the horse occasionally. The whip is also used often in the stretch of a race to keep a horse moving.

PETA wants whips in horseracing banned.

Animal rights organizations, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), feel whips should be banned in horse racing. PETA cites the Australian study mentioned above in support of a ban on whips. PETA’s ultimate goal is the eradication of horse racing altogether.

PETA and other organizations have been able to garner attention on the use of whips in the racing industry. Because of their efforts, the Jockey Club and the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) formulated model rules for the design of whips. The whip standards:

  • Weight: Whips to weigh no more than 8 oz,
  • Length: Whips to be less than 10 inches long
  • Diameter: Shaft of whips at least 0.5 inches in diameter,
  • Flap or popper: The flap or popper of a whip to be between 0.8 and 1.6 inches wide.
  • Design: To construct new whips: a four- or five-foot tapered fiberglass rod is cut to whip length, wound with duct tape, and covered with fabric. A rubber handle is placed over the material, and the popper is added and glued in place.

The ARCI are guidelines only, and it is up to the various U.S. racing jurisdictions to set basic whip guidelines. In the U.S., regulations governing whip use vary among jurisdictions with some racing jurisdictions adhering to the ARCI guidelines while others do not.

Horse whipping during races is monitored.

Track stewards are responsible for monitoring whip use at tracks in the United States. In Canada, France, Australia, and the United Kingdom, they have adopted strict rules regulating whip use during racing.

You can check out this article to learn more about the specific regulations these countries have adopted regarding whip use in horse racing.

Some jurisdictions have set a limit on the number of times a jockey can strike a horse with a whip during a race. Requiring a rider to count strikes seems an extreme request. No one wants to see any animal abused, but how is a jockey supposed to count the number of times he hits a horse during a frenzied race?

Stewards or a panel should decide a jockey has gotten too forceful with a horse. If a steward believes a rider is abusive, he could report the jockey to a board and have the tape of the race reviewed.

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Miles Henry

I love animals! Especially horses, I've been around them most of my life but I am always learning more and enjoy sharing with others. I have bought, sold, and broke racehorse yearlings. I have raised some winning horses and had some that didn't make it as racehorses, so we trained them in other disciplines. Miles Henry

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