A Jockey’s Tips for Starting Horse Riding

min read
Two jockeys racing their horses on a racetrack.
BetMGM @BETMGM Dec 31, 2021, 4:57 AM

Horse riding is one of the most potentially fulfilling activities that you can do for sport and leisure, but it can be a daunting prospect. Horses are big, strong and powerful, and all kinds of things can go wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you’re interested in learning how to approach horse riding for the first time, you could take inspiration from the jockeys you see racing in various NYRA online sports betting events. These fearless professionals put themselves at tremendous personal risk to get their horses to perform at their peak during horse-racing tournaments. Concussions, crushed legs, broken collar bones, fractured arms and broken spines are just some of the injuries you could sustain when you’re riding a racehorse that weighs as much as 1,450lbs at speeds of up to 55mph. To counteract these risks, jockeys rely on the most advanced riding techniques in the world today. Even if you’re not planning on riding racehorses but just want to give it a go, you can benefit from their insights. Let’s find out more.

Health and fitness

To make the grade, there are some basic requirements that all jockeys have to fulfill. Fitness and core strength are critical to their performance, so they have to be prepared to work hard on their physical athleticism. Regular gym sessions and strength-enhancing fitness-ball workouts are all part of the routine. Jockeys also can’t be too heavy, so they have to watch their diet closely. That’s not to say you as a beginner have to work out and diet obsessively to start horse-riding, but a reasonable level of health and fitness will help to boost your confidence and enjoyment of the pastime. There’s also the horse’s well-being to consider – it’s unfair to expect them to carry excess weight, especially over long distances, so it’s worth getting into shape!

Take it step by step

Rookie riders and top jockeys have something in common – they were all beginners once! The same basic principles apply to all riders at the start of their journey, whether they’re planning to thunder down NYRA tracks such as Saratoga and Aqueduct, or just take a horse along a trail somewhere, while on vacation. To begin, purchase or hire proper horse-riding equipment (long pants, low-heeled boots and a safety helmet,) and scout out your nearest horse-riding stables to book some training. The first time you meet your horse, extend your arm and allow him to smell the back of your hand until he touches it with his nose. By performing this action, known as the “horseman’s handshake,” you’re asking for permission to mount him. It’s a great way to establish a good relationship from the start. After all, your horse is a living creature, not an automobile. Next, you should look to mount the horse with the confidence of a jockey! A horse will pick up if you’re nervous and that may spook them. So approach him from the left, lift your left foot into the stirrup, grasping the reins in your left hand; push down on your left foot to swing up with your right leg over the horse’s back, in one smooth movement. Now you’re ready to ride.

Controlling the horse

The key to controlling a horse is the way you sit. The best position for beginners is to sit up straight and tall – this is where engaging your core comes in. Relax your back, set a foot in each stirrup and keep a gentle hold on the reins as you maintain your balance. This way, the horse will feel like he’s carrying a lighter load. This isn’t the way jockeys ride, of course. They make racehorses run faster by adopting a special position, and extending and constricting their legs. This transmits force vertically with their bodyweight, which compensates for the horse’s motion. As a result, the horse supports the jockey without expending any further energy on carrying his weight.

The perfect position for speed

The perfect horse racing stance is known as the “martini glass” position. Imagine you’re a jockey. Keep your knee directly above the balancing point in your foot, as your body may tip forward and unbalance the horse if your lower leg’s too far back. Your knees are your main shock absorber so keep them flexible, not stiff. Keep your back flat, and your head level and still. This lowers your center of gravity and helps keep your hands in the right place. Look forward as you ride, with the stirrup on the ball of your foot or with your foot fully in the stirrup. This position may look strange and uncomfortable, but it will help you to move relative to the horse and minimize the forward-backward and up-and-down movement that comes with sitting upright.

The jockey simulator

If you’re interested in getting a feel for what it’s like to be a jockey without risking life and limb, you could try out a horse-riding tool such as the Equicizer. This hand-crafted mechanical horse simulates the experience of riding for improved strength, balance and coordination (it’s a great confidence builder, too.) Your movements make the horse go, so you can work on your balance and exercise the specific muscles and body areas needed for horse riding. Actor Tobey Maguire used this system as part of his training for the close-up scenes in the 2003 horse racing movie, Seabiscuit. It turned out the role was quite an eye-opener. “I didn’t realize what kind of athletes jockeys are,” said Maguire. “The first time I got up in the stirrups and did a bit of a gallop on the Equicizer… after a couple of minutes, my legs were noodles. I could barely stand up!”

Connect with the sport

To become a professional jockey, you have to join a jockey-training program – there’s no getting around that. It’s an incredibly skilled and demanding job, with millions in NYRA bets riding on your performance every year. That said, there are many amateur events where riders of different skill levels can compete, and many of them come with horse racing odds, too. Of course, if you’d rather restrict your horse-riding activities to trail walking, that’s perfectly okay. You can always connect with the sport via online horse racing events. It’s easy to learn how to bet on horse racing, and it’s a lot of fun to research how various horses are performing, discover different tracks and explore all the types of horse racing bets.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.