If you’ve ever thought that working as a professional jockey would be an exciting and glamorous way to earn a living, you’re right, it certainly can be. Some of the top jockeys earn six-figure incomes, and travel around the country staying in luxury hotels and doing interviews on television.
Not all jockeys reach this level, of course, and in fact most ride horses that compete at lower stakes and for far less money. The thrills and excitement of being a professional jockey are still the same, however, which keeps many jockeys riding despite the constant danger, pressure to win, and lower pay.
You’ve probably heard that you need to be small in stature to work as a jockey, and that’s true. You don’t see a lot of 6'4" 250 pound jockeys. Most jockeys start out young as well - high school age in fact. So if you’re a larger person, or over 30, this might not be a realistic career choice for you.
Still, despite the dangers, pressures and challenges of the profession, working as a jockey can be a wonderful experience, and especially if you love horses and the excitement of competition.
About the job
As you’re probably aware, the primary responsibility of a jockey is to ride his or her client’s horse to the horse racing finish line - and hopefully win. In order to reach that goal, the jockey must spend long hours working with the horse’s owner and trainer. Jockey’s are very involved in the care and training of the horses they ride, and like a NASCAR racer, are part of a larger team that’s been assembled to create a successful racehorse.
Jockey’s work at a variety of different classes and career levels, with only a few of the top echelon jockeys competing in the Kentucky Derby and other top races. Most jockeys ride in smaller, regional races and for far less money. There are also a variety of racehorse breeds, from Thoroughbreds, Arabians, Appaloosas and Quarter Horses.
The majority of jockeys ride several horses for several different clients. They also usually hire the services of a jockey’s agent, who handles contracts and negotiates fees. The agent also helps the jockey find new mounts to ride in exchange for a portion of the fees.
Some additional duties of professional jockeys include:
What the job is really like:
While sometimes glamorous and exciting, the life of a jockey is also dangerous and full of pressure. Jockeys usually work odd hours and hectic schedules, they’re under pressure to win every time they enter the track, and they know if they don’t perform they’ll never advance to the upper echelons of horse racing.
They also tend to start their career at a young age. Most begin riding as teenagers while still in high school, and have to fit their riding duties in with classwork and other school activities. In addition, because of the strenuous nature of the work, most jockeys retire at an earlier age that other people working in animal-related careers.
The life of the jockey is a difficult one because of the dangers involved, the hectic schedule, and the pressures of having to find mounts and win. In order to be successful as a jockey, one must started a young age, often while still competing completing high school. Also, because work is a jockey is so strenuous, most jockeys retire earlier than individuals and other less arduous animal related jobs.
Because of the fact that horse races are held all over the country – and all over the world - jockey’s spend a lot of their time traveling. For some this is part of the attract of the job, while others miss their time at home with friends and family. Jockeys also work irregular hours, sometimes late at night and then early the next morning, and weekends as well.
And every jockey accepts the dangers that come with the job. A spill during a race could result in serious injury or even death, and every jockey knows and accepts this fact on a daily basis. Again for some, this is part of the attraction to this type of work, especially for thrill-seekers who love the rush of adrenaline every time they shoot out of the starting gate during a race.
Training and getting started
There is stiff competition for would-be jockeys, and most get their start as exercise riders, riding the horses during training hours when they can, they working their way up to apprentice jockeys. Again, the younger you get started the better, but you need to be at least 16 to become an apprentice rider.
These apprentice jockeys work closely with horse trainers to learn the ins and outs of horse racing. Another route into the profession is to find a good mentor jockey to work with, someone who knows the ropes and will help you develop your skills and make the important connections you’ll need to advance in the business.
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