Jockeys vs. Athletes: Exploring the Physical Demands of Horse Racing and Other Sports


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Jockeys are the unsung heroes of horse racing that definitely deserve more credit. When we watch a horse race, almost all attention goes to the horse, and when it wins, it becomes a legend. But jockeys are the athletes responsible for squeezing every bit of performance out of that horse.

On top of that, horse racing is actually really physically demanding. If you have doubts, try casual horse riding for a day. The next day, many muscles of your body that you never knew existed will be sore, even if you are a physically active person.

But in today’s article, we are interested in professional jockeys and how they compare to other athletes from different sports.

While all top athletes adhere to rigorous training regimes and strict diets, jockeys are among the most disciplined sportspeople in the world. Due to horses being allocated a specific weight to carry in a race, jockeys must remain in full control of their diet at all times to weigh the right amount.

So, the next time you are browsing through the results of the Breeders’ Cup, make sure to give the jockeys some credit too:

Let’s explore how jockeys compare to athletes from different sports.

Physical Demands for Jockeys

Jockeys must maintain optimal cardiovascular fitness and specific muscle strength to meet the physical demands of their sport. To achieve higher speeds while riding mid-race, they adopt a stance akin to a “martini” glass, as described by Kiely et al.

This position, referred to as a “quasi-isometric squat,” allows jockeys to align their center of gravity with the horse’s center of mass by flexing their knees and thighs to adjust their riding height. Sustaining this posture necessitates well-developed core strength and lower extremity power to maintain forward propulsion.

Studies have reported mean heart rates during races ranging from the 130s to 180s, with peak heart rates in the 150s to 190s. Additionally, in-race mean maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 max) has been estimated to range from approximately 42.74(±5.6) to 57.54 (±4.71) mL O2/(kg min) in three separate studies.

Although these physiological demands suggest that professional jockeys must maintain fitness levels on par with other elite athletes, it is unclear whether their standard training practices align with the performance requirements of the sport.

Some sources have suggested an overemphasis on weight management over cardiovascular and aerobic fitness in jockey training.

Jockey’s Diet Requirements

When comparing jockeys to other athletes, such as footballers and sprinters, it becomes evident that their dietary and training routines differ. Jockeys place a strong emphasis on maintaining a light body weight due to its importance for race-day performance.

Many jockeys restrict their diets around key races. They also require quick energy boosts, with some opting for a simple breakfast like a cup of tea with sugar or carrying sugary supplies like jelly sweets for race-day emergencies.

Risks that Jockeys Take

Jockeys face significant risks, perhaps even more than boxers, as their profession involves navigating horses through tight spaces with great bravado.

While boxers can face serious injuries or even death in the ring, jockeys have experienced an average of two deaths per year since 1960, with nearly every career jockey suffering severe, life-threatening injuries that require extended recovery.

Therefore, being a jockey requires a lot of strength, stamina, and impressive mental focus.

Fitness Level of Jockeys

To become a professional jockey in modern horse racing, candidates must pass a fitness test, which includes a bleep test for cardiovascular health, pull-band routines, press-ups, leg raises, and exercises on a mechanical horse.

Prospective jockeys’ performances in this test are meticulously evaluated, and many fail to meet the minimum passing score. Jockeys are not only required to be physically fit but also exhibit the willpower to maintain a healthy, balanced diet and avoid excessive consumption of fatty foods and alcohol.

It’s essential to note that Flat jockeys and Jump jockeys have different weight requirements. Flat jockeys are typically lighter and shorter to maximize speed in Flat racing, while Jump jockeys are usually taller and slightly heavier to handle the additional strength and stamina needed for obstacles in Jump racing.


Most people think that jockeys are on a diet a week before the event, which is not true. They maintain a strict diet throughout their entire career, and sort of becomes their lifestyle for a long time.

Professional jockeys must consistently maintain their fitness and weight throughout the year, unlike boxers who can bulk up between fights and then cut down for training camps. Jockeys are required to ride every week, making it necessary for them to stay close to their target weight. This can be particularly challenging for novices, as they are often instructed to ride at their maximum claimer weight.

Horse racing is a sport that is part of the Circular Economy, but there are a lot of stars in the sport, apart from the horses. Jockeys are without a doubt one of the toughest athletes on the planet.

So, the next time you see a jockey, make sure to show your respect to these athletes with tiny, yet incredibly fit physiques. After all, they are responsive for entertaining us with some exciting races.

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