There are many rules and regulations in place when it comes to the sport of horse racing, with one of the most important having to do with how much weight the horses are allowed to carry. As a result, horse jockeys are required to meet minimum weight requirements to ensure that all horses taking part in a race are fairly matched. So, how much do they weigh, and how tall are they?
Horse jockeys are fairly small in stature; every race has slightly varying rules, with weight requirements typically ranging from 112 to 126 pounds, including 7 pounds of gear on the horse. The Kentucky Derby, for example, falls on the higher end of the spectrum with a maximum of 126 pounds, which means the jockeys themselves can’t weigh more than 119 pounds. There are no rules that limit the height of jockeys, but they generally tend to be on the shorter side due to the weight restrictions, usually ranging between 4ft.10 in and 5ft.6 in.
Why are Horse Jockeys So Small?
Jockey size can play a role in a horse’s racing speed. Racehorse trainers believe that jockeys who weigh in as close as possible to the weight that is assigned to the horse have an advantage over those that are on the heavier side.
Racing commissions typically assign the amount of weight that each horse is required to carry in a race. Keep in mind that each race has different requirements. If a horse jockey weighs in at less than the required amount, then weight must be added. There are two ways through which weight can be added:
- Using weighted saddle pads
- Adding thin lead weights to pouches in a special saddle cloth
Before each race, the horse jockey must step on the scales with his gear in hand (including the saddle) and officially weigh in to ensure the horse he rides will carry the designated amount of weight. Once the race is over, all the jockeys must once again grab their riding gear and get weighed. This second weighing is done to ensure that the horse carried the proper amount during the race.
For example, if a horse must carry 130 pounds, a 123-pound jockey would likely weigh in with his gear at 130 pounds on the scale – standard racing gear weighs 7 pounds. If a jockey is 120 pounds, then 3 pounds of artificial weights will be added to ensure he meets the requirement.
Based on this example, racehorse trainers prefer a jockey that weighs as close as possible to the designated weight. This is because they believe the weight is carried better by the horse when on a human rather than as added weights in a bag.
There could be some truth to this – in 2009, researchers studied the relationship between racing times and jockey riding styles. It was noted that horse racing times improved after jockey began to use the “monkey crouch style” of riding. In this position, jockeys can isolate themselves from the movement of their horse, subsequently allowing the horse to pick up its speed and bear less of a burden. The riding posture, when done correctly, is extremely physically challenging for jockeys, and carrying any extra weight makes it all the more difficult to execute.
How Do Horse Jockeys Stay So Small?
Since horse jockeys are required to weigh themselves before they can participate in a horse race, it means that they must exercise a lot of discipline to maintain the required weight. The fitness and diet regime of a horse jockey is physically and mentally challenging.
Every individual jockey approaches their diet and fitness regime differently, but the consensus is that the profession is a constant battle to ensure that they don’t put on too much weight. Here are some common weight loss methods used by jockeys:
According to a study on jockeys’ health performed by the Chicago Rehabilitation Institute, 69 percent of jockeys skip meals to shed pounds. Many jockeys are known to minimize their food intake (or stop eating entirely in extreme cases) in the days leading up to a race.
Dehydration techniques commonly used include:
Diuretics, also known as water pills, are substances that promote diuresis, the increased production of urine. In addition to causing the human body to lose water, diuretics can also affect the level of certain minerals in the body. Some diuretics, for example, inhibit the kidney’s ability to reabsorb sodium.
Saunas and Hot Baths
Saunas and hot baths are also popular among jockeys as they stimulate the sweat glands to release sweat in excess, which in turn helps them shed water weight.
Some jockeys will dress in heavy sweat suits or rubber suits and work out in them to sweat out the excess weight.
These are substances that are used to help stimulate bowel movements in constipated patients. Some jockeys use them as a tool for weight loss.
Jockeys maintain an intensive exercise regime that ensures that they not only meet the weight requirements but also build strength to control horses as they ride them.
Some jockeys develop a smoking habit; tobacco reduces appetite by decreasing metabolic efficiency and absorption of calories.
Flipping is one of the more extreme methods used by some professional jockeys. It’s where a jockey vomits to remove excess food. Flipping was so prevalent that specially designed heaving bowls were installed in the jockey rooms. Over the years, these bowls have been removed, and new race tracks generally don’t install them, but the practice of flipping is still prevalent.
Is There a Weight Limit for Horse Jockeys?
Weight limits for jockeys vary depending on the weight allocated for horses to carry in a race.
Weight requirements also vary depending on the type of race – flat jockeys are typically lighter in weight and shorter in stature to facilitate greater speed in flat racing, whilst jump jockeys are usually slightly heavier and taller to allow for extra strength and stamina that is required over obstacles in jump racing.
The Kentucky Derby, for example, has a weight limit of 119 pounds for jockeys, for a total of 126 pounds when you include the tack.
Do Horse Jockeys Stunt Their Growth?
The strict weight limit puts a lot of pressure on horse jockeys to stay much smaller than average, which may cause some jockeys to go to extreme lengths to stunt their growth. Jockeys’ efforts to maintain weight can lead to short and long-term health problems. Some adverse effects of their battle to make weight are:
- Nutritional deficiencies as a result of limiting the intake of some nutrients
- Gum problems, cavities, and tooth erosion due to force vomiting
- Menstrual irregularity in female jockeys
- Low bone density due to malnutrition, which increases the likelihood of bone breakage
- Heat stress
- Mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and stress
How Many Female Horse Jockeys are There?
Horseracing is a male-dominated sport, with only a few females taking part over the years. According to the Jockey’s Guild, female jockeys make up only about 8 percent of the roughly 1,500 licensed jockeys in the United States. The stark contrast is often attributed to the fact that women were once barred from taking part in the sport and had to fight against outdated conventions to even gain the right to participate.
Has There Ever Been a Female Jockey in the Kentucky Derby?
Although the Kentucky Derby is the most well-known race in the American thoroughbred season, only a handful of women have ever competed in it. They include:
- Diane Crump – In 1970, she became the first female jockey to compete in the Kentucky Derby
- Patti “P.J” Cooksey – competed in the 1984 Kentucky Derby.
- Andrea Seefeldt – in 1991.
- Julie Krone – One of the only two women to compete in the Kentucky Derby twice, in 1992 and 1995.
- Rosemary Homeister – in 2003
- Rosie Napravnik – in 2011 and 2013.
Famous Horse Jockeys
Laffit A. Pincay, Jr.
- Born: 29/12/1946
- Career wins: 9,530
- Main Circuit: United States
- Earnings: $237,120,625
- Born: 19/08/1931
- Career wins: 8,883
- Main Circuit: United States
- Earnings: $123,375,524
Lanfranco “Frankie” Dettori
- Born: 15/12/1970
- Career wins: 3,000+
- Main Circuit: Europe
- Earnings: £155,000,000
- Born: 05/11/1935
- Career wins: 4,493
- Main Circuit: United Kingdom
- Born: 07/08/1958
- Career wins: 12,842
- Main Circuit: United States
- Earnings: $199,334,219
Jerry D. Bailey
- Born: 29/08/1957
- Career wins: 5,893
- Main Circuit: United States
- Earnings: $296,113,529
How Much Does a Horse Jockey Make a Year?
Most jockeys earn between $30,000 and $40,000 a year, but there are some exceptions. In 2004, for example, the top 100 competing jockeys earned an average of $5.7 million. It’s worth noting that because of the wide variation in prize earnings. The most successful jockeys can make over a million dollars a year, while the least successful will make less than $20,000 in a year.
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