My younger years as a horse jockey were never easy because I always had to pay attention to my weight. Even when I began at fifteen years old by weighing 37 kilograms (81.5 pounds), I was already spending time in saunas not to take a gram in excess. But my love for horses made it all worthwhile.
Even at my young age, I had to deprive myself of certain foods or drinks, getting up at 4 o’clock in the morning every day. I was often tired physically and mentally, and drawing on what my body was leaving in store.
Once I had to stay four hours in a Turkish bath to lose five hundred grams. And soon after the race, at the end of the day, I got them back anyway by just eating an apple… Awful!
At the time of being a racehorse rider, my body absorbed this kind of suffering. I could take it because I was young, but completely ignored the notice that said I would have to pay the consequences in the years to come.
The Race Horse under You
But the fact of being a horse jockey also reserve some great things. So let me take you with me, let us enter the secret world of jockeys and ride a real race together. This way, you might catch a glimpse of the world I, Sergei, lived in for years as a young man. Come and accompany me in the middle of a horse race.
Can you imagine yourself for an instant riding on the back of a thoroughbred (pure blood) horse? Can you realize being aboard a machine made of muscles and blood that weigh in the vicinity of 500 kilograms (1100 to 1250 pounds)? An athlete that can reach a speed of 60 kilometers per hour (40 miles an hour)?
As for the race itself, it lasts only two to three minutes. During that time, the horse jockey has to think fast, act intuitively and make quick decisions; in the hope that they are the right choices, and all of that in a matter of seconds.
The Unknown Valet behind the Jockey
Above the racetrack that afternoon, as you look up, the sky gets covered by dark clouds. It is weather more than regrettable, and from the firmament slowly falls a small hail. Now as a horse race rider, you walk passing the weight’s room into the jockey’s lounge. You say good afternoon to the other jockeys already there. Then you go to the place which is assigned to you, and where all your equipment is ready for you.
The silks that you must wear that day are already hanging on the hooks of the oak wall as well as a couple of your white riding breeches with the colored seams. On the floor stand your shiny black riding boots with their crimson red edge. They are all well-polished and a valet which is appointed at your service approaches and greets you.
A valet is a servant that usually takes care of all the clothes and all the equipment of the jockey. He as well do the washing, polishing, and cleaning up. He helps the rider getting dressed and gets around ten percent of his earnings.
A horse jockey has at his disposition around some three or four saddles of different weights. They weigh in general from 3, 2, 1.5, 1 kilogram and even 500 grams… Yes, you heard right, five hundred grams, it is a little saddle made of a piece of leather with two light stirrups, a girth and an over girth. Basically, it is as if you are riding bareback.
The Outfit of a Horse Jockey
All weightless materials are an important feature of the accessories of a jockey. There, sitting in the jockey’s room, you begin to dress up. At first, you put a pair of pantyhose, so that the breeches (rider’s white pants) do not burn your skin by rubbing against the stirrup leathers. These breeches are generally light as a feather.
Then you slide your silky white breeches on, and you follow this by putting on your riding boots. After this, you add a white scarf around your neck that you tie in a beautiful knot. Now you must put on the silk coat of the owner of the horse which you are going to ride first. You then close the collar of the silk, a style Mao collar, with a collar pin made of gold. These pins often represent a whip with a horseshoe in the middle.
And to end it all, you cover your helmet with a cap which is a fabric also made of the colors of the owner recovering the protection helmet. You place it in a raised angle so as to leave a space between the edge and the cap. You then finish your jockey’s preparation by adding a few pair of glasses on top of it all.
The Preparation of the Weight
Now, you are therefore ready with the help of your valet to prepare the exact weight that your mount must carry. You climb on the weighing scale with one of your saddles. And if need be, your valet adds the difference with strips of lead that get placed in pockets. These pouches are made to that purpose in a unique pad which goes under the saddle.
In the race, your horse may have to carry weight if needed, which is usually attributed to him by a handicapper. it is a racing secretary which quantifies the value of each horse to assign him his riding weights according to his past performances, and the distance. This way it equalizes the chances of the competitors.
The Paddock before the Race
Before weighing yourself on front of the race commissioners, you, the horse jockey, have to receive a number pad. This pad is then placed under the saddle on the horse. Now you give the all thing to the race horse trainer that in turn goes to prepare the horse.
The bell rings! It is your turn, so you put your helmet on, take your whip and walk out to the horse paddock. There you meet the trainer and often the owner of the horse you are riding. Then you receive orders on how you should ride your mount during the race. The advice helps when you do not know the horse.
A whistle goes off. It is time for you the horse jockey to get in the saddle. The trainer gives you a helping hand by lifting you while you lift one leg to jump up to get on your horse. Now you are going towards the entrance of the race track held by the stable lad. The lad is the person who takes care for the animal each day.
The Starting Gates
A pony boy or girl is waiting for you as you enter the track. They bring you and your horse safely to the starting gates in a warm up gallop. A couple of minutes after, it is time to get in the gates. One of the starting gate crew takes your horse and bring you into the gate number you have been randomly assigned.
Now you are waiting in a box just big enough for your horse and you to fit in. The gates close behind you, and you wait that everyone is in. You place your glasses on your face. Then you take a piece of the horse’s mane in one hand to not fall back when the horse will suddenly jump out of the starting gates. Now you, the horse jockey, are ready and waiting for the doors to open.
The horses are nervous and the all gate is moving from side to side. But you keep your eyes in front of you. A sudden noise rings out! The doors open, all horses are jumping out. There is a little shove here and there to get into place, but the race begins.
You are now in the race! You the jockey have 2 or 3 minutes to imagine a strategy while on your horse. But you find yourself in between a dozen other horses, glued to one another. Inside of this herd, the heavy deafening noise of the full gallops rings loudly in your ears. The promptness of the centrifugal force pushes against you as you receive pieces of grass and dirt at great speed in your face (it stings, and you find dirt in your ears after the race).
At the same time, you must make one with your mount, crouching yourself down flat on the stirrups, just like a downhill skier. You stick yourself behind the horse’s large neck line while his mane floats in the wind. Your eyes need to focus between his ears to observe the pace of the race and read what the others are doing.
Then, you feel the centrifugal power maintaining most of your jockey’s weight up in mid-air which surrounds you. During that time, you are tightening the reins of the bridle in your hands controlling this way the power of a half-ton of muscles in a full gallop which is floating under you.
The racehorse’s body stretches itself in all its length with every stride. You have to know that a thoroughbred does usually two hundred meters in twelve seconds while the race lasts only two to three minutes.
The Horse Jockey
The first 4 or 5 races of your career, as a beginner horse jockey, pass at such a lightning speed that you do not even realize what is happening. It is only later on that you get used to the speed. The feeling that comes with it becomes some kind of an exaltation that which you get used to.
In raining weather and on a racehorse during a race, with that rapidity, the rain drops that fall from the sky on your face and hands act more like sticking needles than simple beads of water.
In the middle of the confused resonance of horses galloping, you push one another around sometime, sometime purposely, sometimes not, and it acts like a domino effect. It creates, on a positive side, some space between horses during a fraction of a second so that the rider may react and slide into a better position. The negative aspect of this is that if not done well, it generates a dangerous maneuver for the others on your sides, because you are making them bounce back like a ball.
The Last Stretch
Finally, in the last stretch, everyone, including you, is fighting for the finish line. You pass the finish and you slow down. You stop and come back to entrance of the track where all is over unless you win. If you do, you go in a winner circle where owner and trainer are waiting, and pictures are made.
I hope you enjoyed your short time as a horse jockey and that you have realized that such athletic feat is not a given for everyone. It is a hard job, but most horse jockeys are passionate about what they are doing. As for me, I just got too heavy to continue.
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Sergei VanBellinghen, Founder & CEO of First-Class Lifestyle, currently a Personal Growth & Success Expert Consultant, using self-development techniques to help you succeed and have a better life.