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Do Jockeys Make Horses Run Faster? The Truth Revealed

Last updated: December 31, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

Have you ever wondered what magic lies in the hands of a jockey that propels a racehorse to breathtaking speeds? It’s not just about the horse’s power; it’s a fine art of strategy and skill. As a seasoned racehorse owner, I’ve witnessed firsthand the transformative impact a jockey can have.

I recall a race where our underdog, guided by an adept jockey, beat the favorites, largely because of the rider’s skill. In this article, we’ll examine the fascinating dynamics of how jockeys coax every ounce of speed and agility from their equine partners.

From the revolutionary ‘monkey crouch’ to the subtle interplay of kinetic energy, I unravel the secrets behind this exhilarating sport. Join me in uncovering the intricate blend of science and skill that makes horse racing a thrilling display of speed and strategy.

Picture of a horse heading for a win.  Jockeys make horses run faster, this race is a testament to that.
Jockey is heading to the finish line at the New Orleans Fairgrounds Race Course.

Study Shows Jockeys Make Horses Run Faster.

A London-based research group performed a study that proves that Jockeys can make racehorses run faster. Jockeys play a significant role in a horse’s success 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 jockey’s weight but does not expend energy moving the rider. The kinetic energy created by a jockey and horse might be slightly smaller than 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.

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

A jockey is approximately 13% of the weight of a racehorse. Carrying 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; the forward transportation of the weight slows a horse. However, jockeys in a crouch position assist a racehorse during its running stride by the energy the rider creates, thus allowing horses to run faster.

Picture of jockeys in the "monkey crouch" position during the start of a race.

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 confirmed their findings by measuring the acceleration and displacement of horses and riders 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 horse’s back and saved the energy a horse typically uses to lift and propel a load when running.

Good Horse Racing. Jockeys are Fearless.

Good jockeys are intelligent, 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.

We recently had a jockey ride a young horse of ours, and he rode scared. You could see that he wanted to avoid traffic at all costs. His poor ride led to a disappointing result.

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.

Picture of a jockey with a whip.

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 must 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, work out 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 horse jockeys are.

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 the whipping of horses in the last 400 meters of a horserace. They concluded that there is no correlation between beating a tired horse and winning races.

The research focused on horses’ speed in the race’s final stretch. 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.

Picture of our two-year-old running with a training jockey on board.

A whip encourages a horse to continue running.

The whip can be used; similarly, a jockey can show the horse the strap and 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 them to the finish line without ever touching them 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 to support a ban on whips. PETA’s ultimate goal is the eradication of horse racing altogether.

PETA and other organizations have garnered 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.

Picture of a small jockey riding a racehorse.

Horse whipping during races is monitored.

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

You can check out this article to learn more about these countries’ specific regulations 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 heated race?

Stewards or a panel should decide if 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.

The YouTube video below is an educational video that shows British jockeys the proper way to use a whip and illustrates riders’ positioning during a race.

FAQs for “How Do Jockeys Make Horses Go Faster?”

What is the ‘Monkey Crouch’ in horse racing?

The ‘Monkey Crouch’ is a revolutionary riding style where jockeys adopt a crouched posture, minimizing air resistance and enhancing speed. It was popularized in the late 19th century and significantly improved racing times.

How has jockeying evolved over the years?

Jockeying has evolved with advancements in riding techniques, fitness regimes, and strategic insights, all contributing to more efficient and faster horse racing.

Are physical fitness and weight important for jockeys?

Yes, jockeys must maintain a balance of physical strength and lightweight agility to effectively control the horse and optimize its speed without burdening it.

Conclusion,

The intricate dance between jockey and horse in the high-speed world of horse racing is a blend of art and science. From the revolutionary ‘Monkey Crouch’ to the strategic interplay of kinetic energy, a jockey’s skill profoundly influences a racehorse’s performance.

This article has revealed the critical techniques and strategies that jockeys employ to coax maximum speed and agility from their equine partners, highlighting the evolution of jockeying and its impact on the sport. The synergy of physical fitness, strategic insight, and a deep understanding of each horse’s unique strengths makes horse racing not just a sport but a spectacle of strategy and speed.

Call to Action

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