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A career as a horse jockey doesn’t come easily. There’s a limited amount of jobs available for jockeys, and the horse jockey requirements make it a tough field to break into. In addition to complying with the average weight limits, it’s also a physically demanding job.
What Is a Horse Jockey?
A jockey is a professional athlete who rides racehorses. Though they’re not throwing balls or climbing ninja walls, physical fitness is a required and necessary element of the jockey's job. Most jockeys are freelancers and hire themselves out to horse owners and trainers for racing. The better a jockey’s record of winning, the more that jockey is in demand and the higher his fees and cut of the winnings.
Jockeys spend their days working with horses and trainers. There’s a lot of trust involved between the jockey and the horse, and hours of training are required to make sure the two are in sync. Jockeys also spend a good portion of their day in the gym maintaining their physical fitness and ensuring they meet the height and weight requirements.
Horse Jockey Requirements
One doesn’t simply walk into a stable and ask for a jockey job. There are specific requirements and milestone to achieve before earning that title. In the United States, there are limited college programs available for jockey training and education. The North American Racing Academy in Kentucky is this country’s only school for jockeys, and offers a two-year program. To qualify for the program, aspiring jockeys must have a high school diploma or GED, as well as experience riding and training horses. It’s not mandatory to attend and graduate from NARA to become a jockey.
An aspiring jockey can apply for a jockey apprenticeship license at the age of 16, in most states. Because state requirements vary, it’s a good idea to research the horse jockey requirements in your state of residence. Some states won’t grant a license unless the jockey meets the height and weight requirements and proves that he or she can maintain weight levels in a healthy manner.
After receiving an apprenticeship license, aspiring jockeys have other requirements, also according to state. For example, they might be required to put in a certain amount of time working in stables. Apprentice jockeys also have racing and health requirements, and might have to pass an exam. After putting in the designated amount of time in stables and on the racetrack, the apprentice earns the title of “journeyman jockey.”
Average Jockey Height and Weight
When it comes to being a successful jockey, weight matters. A lighter jockey can have better control and lessen the burden on the horse. Jockeys weigh in often, and follow a strict diet and exercise regimen to meet average jockey height and weight requirements.
Jockey weight is determined by how much weight a horse is allowed to hold for each race. As a result, the jockey's weight can fluctuate to meet racing guidelines. Because jockeys don’t learn the weight requirements until three days before each race, there can be a lot of crash dieting and wearing of heavy layers to sweat off the pounds before race day.
Jockeys have to weight in before each race. If they're running several races in one day, they'll weigh in more than once. While it’s acceptable if jockeys weigh in at up to 5 pounds over the weight limit, most try to meet the strict guidelines to honor their contracts with the clients. On average, racehorses can carry 118 to 122 pounds, but this amount also includes equipment.
Though there are no requirements regarding jockey height, most are on the small side because most taller riders don’t meet the jockey weight requirements. The average jockey height is between 4’10” and 5’’6,” and they weigh between 108 and 118 pounds.
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