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Jockeys are easy to spot at the race track; they wear bright colored tops with white pants and are the smallest people at the track. But unless you have the opportunity to stand next to one, it’s difficult to gauge their height and weight.
The average horseracing jockey 5’2″ tall and weighs 113 lbs, well below the average height and weight for men and women. In the United States, the average man is 5’9 inches tall, and the average height of a woman is 5’4″.
Jockeys are small, but they are strong and are great athletes. But there’s a lot of factors that determine a jockey’s success other than their short stature.
Jockey size matters in horse racing
Jockey size can influence horse racing speed. Racehorse trainers believe that jockeys with weight as near as possible to the weight assigned to the horse have an advantage over horses that carry added weight.
Racing commissioners assign the amount of weight each horse must carry in a race. Each race has different requirements. If a jockey weighs less than its designated weight, then weight must be added.
Trainers also like short jockeys because they believe having the weight compacted in less space is easier on the horse. I tend to think weight spread over a larger area would be easier to carry.
Another factor could be the strength of the compact jockey. If a jockey is 5’6″, weighing 125 pounds, he likely will be much weaker than a jockey 4’11” weighing the same amount.
Weight is added to racehorses to even the field
Weight can be added in two ways, 1) adding lead pads to pouches in the saddle cloth, or 2) the newer method of using weighted saddle pads.
Before a jockey mounts his steed, he is officially weighed holding his gear; after the race is run, the riders and equipment are weighed again. To read about what a jockey wears on race day, click here.
For example, if a race requires a horse to carry 130 lbs, a 123 lbs jockey would likely hit the scales with his gear right at 130 lbs., typical racing gear weighs 7 lbs. If a rider weighed 120 lbs, then three pounds of artificial weights are added to his equipment.
Trainers prefer jockeys close to the assigned weight
Based on our example, racehorse trainers would use the jockey that doesn’t have the added weight; this assumes all other aspects of their riding ability are equal.
The trainers’ choice may have some validity based on a 2009 study. Researchers studied racing times and jockey riding styles. They noted improved horse racing times after jockeys began to ride in the “monkey crouch style.”
In this riding, position jockeys isolate themselves from the movement of their horse, which in turn assists the horse in running faster and with less of a burden.
The posture, when performed correctly, is challenging and works the jockeys extremely hard. So horses with jockeys close to their assigned weight may have an advantage over jockeys that have to carry extra weight.
Racehorses typically weigh over 1,200 lbs.
Jockeys typically weigh less than 120 lbs and controlling an animal weighing more than 1,200 pounds while running over 40 miles per hour. Because of this, they need to be strong and healthy, however, racehorse owners want lightweight jockeys.
Owners and trainers believe the lighter jockeys are, the safer it is for their horses. They spend a lot of money and time developing, raising, and training these horses and believe heavy riders increase the likelihood of injury.
Jockeys put their bodies through an extreme challenge to keep their weight low to ensure they get mounts. Lighter weight riders have the opportunity to ride more horses, and they can’t make money if they aren’t riding.
But, jockeys have to be careful; they want to stay thin but not lose strength. Shorter jockeys have an advantage because they can maintain muscle strength at low body weight.
Maintaining strength at 115 lbs is a feat for any person, but it is especially tricky for tall jockeys.
It’s difficult for tall jockeys to make weight
Stuart Brown was the tallest jockey in Australia at nearly 6’3 ″, and his average riding weight was 137 lbs. In the United States, 137 pounds would be hefty for a rider, but in Australia, they likely have higher weight limits. Still, regardless, this is exceptionally light for any person over six feet tall.
Mr. Brown rode for 20 years and had a successful career. However, he died at the young age of 43 years old. After Mr. Brown’s death, his mother stated, “Stuart abused his body something shocking and had to starve himself to ride.” She believes the abuse took a toll on his body and was a factor in his early demise.
Jockeys health suffers maintaining a low weight
The adverse health effects of long term dieting include dental erosion, nutritional deficiencies, menstrual irregularity, low bone density, dehydration, and heat stress.
It’s no coincidence that jockeys are often injured, falling six-foot from the back of a horse traveling 40 mph with brittle bones is an ugly picture. A 2011 study determined that, on average, a jockey in California can expect to have a fall every 502 rides in Thoroughbred races and every 318 rides in Quarter Horse races.
The Jockeys Guild notes that two jockeys, on average, die every year on U.S. racetracks as a result of injuries sustained race-riding. In addition to that, 60% of rider falls during a race will result in a “substantive” injury.
They further found that in the U.S., 8.6% of jockey falls result in a concussion, and another study determined that nearly 20% of race-day injuries were to the head and neck.
But often concussions or not diagnosed or misdiagnosed, which means these figures could be on the conservative side.