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Being a Jockey: More Than Just an Itch

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How much do people love their jobs? Do they love it enough to get pulverized by a 1,200 pound animal, be out of a job for possible years at a time, have multiple surgeries in that time, and then - of course - get back on another 1,200 pound animal and do it all over again?

"Being a jockey is one of those careers that you really, truly have to want to be (notice I say "be" and not "do"). In order to "just make a living" it consumes your life, so youd better love it. Youll see from many of the interviews, that most all of the guys that have ridden for years absolutely love what they do. How ever you come to the conclusion that being a jockey is something that strikes your fancy, be ready for a career that is very rewarding, very unpredictable, and extremely dangerous" (How to. . .Jockey 1).

When becoming a jockey one will have to take in consideration how to get there. Things youll have to consider are: size, getting experience, and of course, getting started. Size is a major factor in more than one way. It includes weight as well as height. One of the largest jockeys (Leith Innes) is 55" and weighs 54kg (119lbs.), while on the other hand, the smallest jockey (Mark Sweeney) is 5 and 48kgs (105lbs.). All horses have an assigned weight (each horse, due to its ability, has a pre-assigned weight they have to carry so in addition to the live weight (the jockey) some dead weight (lead weights) can be added), so most jockeys need to weigh 52kgs (115lbs.) or less.

The next thing needed is experience, and of course the only way to get that is to actually get on a horse and ride. All jocks (jockeys) have a different riding style, and most develop their own seat (the way they hover above the saddle). If one lives near a racing facility, one should try to obtain a job there grooming horses or hot walking (after a horse gets breezed, or ran at a race pace for a short distance, they are sweaty or warm as a human would be so a "hot walker" cools them off with warm water, puts a blanket on them, and then walks them around until they are cooled down) them. After youve gained sufficient experience with that, a trainer may have you start to breeze the horses or exercise them.

Getting started is the next step to becoming a jockey. A lot of jocks dropped out of school and most will say that they regret that. An apprenticeship can be acquired in a couple of ways. There is a National Equine Academy at Cambridge that may be attended, this is a good choice because a education may be obtained as well. Another way to obtain apprenticeship is by going to the track and working for a trainer. If the trainer likes how his horses are getting exercised, he may put one of his stablehands on the horse as a "bug boy," or apprentice.

Now that becoming a jock has been covered, the difficulties and rewards must be covered. Everyone asks for good news first, so rewards will be covered first. Many jocks have broken the million dollar mark, one of the first to do this was a man by the name of Billie Shoemaker. The reason Billie is going to be mentioned is because to be able to race one must know of and how the great ones raced. In 1951, Shoemaker won $1,329,890 in total purses on his mounts. Each jockey receives about 10% of their winnings, so this year was very lucrative for Shoemaker. In 1986 he won $7,029,211 in total purses for the trainers. As of 1986, Shoemakers career earnings totaled $110,622,979 from riding 38,853 mounts and he won 22% of his mounts which is a surprising number as most riders rarely get into double digits (Shoemaker/Nagler 222, 253).

There are many difficulties to being a jock, namely weight. Most jocks have trouble maintaining weight for their races. A jock by the name of Simon Marshall knows

quite a bit about this.

"My body was that of a cripple. I had holes in both shin bonesin both shin bones, both femurs, I was living in a world of hurt. I was in a different world, my own world. Id been on diets since I was 14 years old. I was just fasting, wasting away, hammering myself in the sauna.

The thing was, I didnt let my body mature. It was 11 years of blood, sweat, and tears."

After the races, Marshall would go home and eat $30 worth of pastries just to throw them up again later so that he could make weight for his races the following Wednesday. Marshall however, was one of the lucky ones. He learned before it was too late. He went out and did things that hed pervasively never done.

"I went and grew up. I experienced everything in life, what Ive experienced in the past 5 years some people wont do in a lifetime, I promise you that. And you know what? It is all overrated."

Marshall still continues to race after finding he couldnt stay away from the track since he loves it so much. However, he doesnt starve himself anymore, he has learned that healthy food and running will keep him in condition to race, as well as able to make weight for races (It Aint. . .Lean 1-2). What can be learned from hearing about Marshall

is that it is possible to race without harming your body.

Many jocks rooms have a special stall dedicated to "flipping," or purging, this is the commonly used term because at the track it is accepted and many jocks can be seen using it just prior to going to the scales to weigh in. Another way jocks keep the weight off is by using the "sweat-box," or sauna. Some jocks will put on a rubber suit or slick themselves up with rubbing alcohol before getting into the box (Horse Racing 1-2). One trip to the sweat-box almost cost Randy Romero his life.

"On April 14, Randy performed his ritual of swathing himself in rubbing alcohol and entering the "sweat-box" in the jockeys quarters. Only his head was exposed. A light bulb exploded in the archaic box, igniting the rubbing alcohol on his body. He was alone. We heard him screaming, said Oaklawn Park clerk of scales, Charles Swain. We ran into the sauna and he was on fire."

Romero had suffered second- and third-degree burns on over 60 percent of his body. Doctors gave him a 1-5 chance of living and said he wouldnt be able to ride again. Everyday he was wrapped and unwrapped in bandages. For months he was lowered into a tank of warm water and chlorox. After being removed from it doctors would scrape the burned skin off while he screamed in agony.

"Then came the grafts: from his feet, buttocks, the side of his leg, anywhere he hadnt been burned. There were 4 more operations in all, even one to separate his arm from his body. But ride again he did."

Three and a half months after all of this happened, he was back on a horse riding and he won 14 races that week (Racing . . . Romero 1-2).

Besides the 140 degree hot box, jocks may be taking laxatives or diuretics (used to flush the liquids out of ones system) to become even lighter. The horrible thing about this as along with making a jock lighter they also deplete potassium from the body -- a jockey died from potassium depletion in 2000 (Starving to Win 1-2). Jocks know the consequences to using such things:

"That takes five to six pounds off, but it also take all the fluids, electrolytes and minerals out of your body. All of the sudden your body cramps up and youre not the jockey youre supposed to be. You come down the stretch and think a hot poker is going through your hips."

This rider knows the consequences first-hand, but he still uses such things to make weight. It may be thought that this only effects you while you are a rider, but that is

false. One jock retired after a racing accident, but it was already too late. After his spleen was removed, they tried to stitch the wound closed, but couldnt because he was

so thin there wasnt any fat to hold them in place (Jockeys Dying. . .Weight 5).

Doctors also have their opinions on the eating disorders of jockeys. Dr. Arthur Heller (nutritionist

and disease expert at NY Presbyterian Hospital) named off some of the consequences to doing what most jocks do.

"Jockeys can suffer the brittle and thinning bones of osteoporosis, blood disorders, kidney and nerve damage, abnormal heart rhythms, fainting spells, and muscle weakness and cramps. They can tear a hole in their esophagus and throw up blood" (2).

This information was not being told to frighten people from becoming jockeys, but to show that it is very hard on the body. By getting this information noticed on a national level, the Jockeys Guild is now attempting to raise the weight scales. Robert Colton (former jockey and wrestler) is the current Guild secretary and they are talking of basing the weight scale on one similar to that of wrestling.

"To compete in an NCAA-sanctioned tournament, a wrestler must undergo a weight assessment during a preseason physical examination, at which time a minimum weight class is assigned based on a number of physical factors, including minimum percentage of body fat. It is then illegal for a wrestler to compete at a weight below that level" (Ryan).

If this was imposed on horse racing the following would be in effect.

"Say a horse gets in at [114 pounds] and Im eligible for 115 -- now it is no longer up to me to try and starve my body, Colton said, adding that it is already a common practice for horses to tote slightly more than their assigned weight. The model would leave it up to the trainer to decided whether to use the jockey at 115 pounds or find another person eligible to ride at 114" (Ryan).

In addition to raising the scales, the Jockeys Guild (of Ireland) is now considering putting a random drug testing rule into effect.

"The main substances that will be tested for include alcohol, cocaine, ecstasy, and diuretic drugs" (according to Irish-Racing.com).

"I warmly welcome this move and lots of jockeys I have spoken to have no objections, said Dr. Walter Halley, medical officer for the Turf Club. "They are in a split-second decision making situation and they dont want someone drunk or on drugs riding with them" (Jockeys. . .2003 1).

Of course, to be a jockey one must connect with the horses. There is a certain finesse that jockeys must have. Ron McAnally said that racehorses in general "give their lives for our enjoyment." And this is very true. Horses are bred to run, which they will, but they will only run to the best of their ability for someone that treats them well and that they respect. McAnally could have also been talking about jockeys though, the aforementioned difficulties proves this. The story below will take one through a typical race, it will show how much the rider must trust the horse, and vice versa.

"Have you even been in a really big thunderstorm? Most people have. Before the storm actually hits, there is this feeling of anticipation, mixed with the unknown. Excitement of danger, yet there is no fear. This is what it is like for me being inside of the starting gate just before a race. When the starter kicked the latch, well, Im there, inside the thunder. Its loud. Jockeys all yelling "heeyaahing their mounts, the sound of hoofbeats. So loud youd think you were in a stampede. A stampede is a little bit what it is actually like. Each rider has an idea of their own strategy "how to win" their races. Or they are given specific instructions by the trainer on how to ride the race. A lot of things can happen in the gate. In the blink of an eye what seems to be just fine one minute, can turn quite tragic the next. There is no way you can really know unless youve been hurt by a horse, as to just what thats like. This business jockeys find themselves in, theyre in it because they love it. They have to love it. If we didnt there is no way we could ever do what we do, day in, day out. But there is one thing that every jockey does know. And that is, that whatever they feel when theyre racing...they are all aware of the risks involved" (Lj, 1-2).

"Life as a jockey can be a hard game, but it has really

made me as a person and given me the confidence to make a

success of any challenges that come along," said Mark

Sweeney (Mark Sweeney, 2). Jocks are now finally

understanding the real point. . .to be happy with themselves

and their bodies, and not to care about the money. Jockey

Simon Marshall summed it up perfectly, "It have never been

the money for me, I couldnt give a shit if I never ride

another winner, Ive only got to please one bloke and thats

myself" (It Aint. . .Lean 2). "Do something you love and

youll never have to work a day in your life." Before one

considers being a jockey, one should consider all of the





Baptiste, Andre. "Jockeys Dying to Make the Weights." The Independent 7, 14 April 2000: 30, 31.

Becoming a Jockey. 2001-2002. <<file://A:\Becoming%20...>.

Daley, Paul. "Racing World Neews to Rally for Romero." Lowell Sun 22 Feb. 2002.

Dulay, Cindy Pierson. Starving to Win? 25 July 2000. <file://A:\Jockey%20Weights%20...>.

How to Become a Jockey. 19 Nov. 2002. <file://A:\How%20to...>.

It Aint Easy Being Lean. 16 Aug. 2002. <http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/08/15/102911398647 3.html>.

"Jockeys in Ireland Face Random Drug Tests in 2003." Thoroughbred Times 22 Aug. 2002.

Lj. Inside the Thunder. 1999-2000. <http://hi2winners.com/ar_thunder.html>.

Mark Sweeney - Jockey. 19 Nov. 2002. <file://A:\Profiles%20...>.

Ryan, Victor. "Jockeys Guild Considering Weight Plan." Thoroughbred Times 1 Oct. 2002.

Shoemaker, Bill, and Barney Nagler. Shoemaker Americas

Greatest Jockey. Doubleday: New York, 1988.