To become a thoroughbred horse racing jockey, individuals must know how to ride a horse, understand horse behavior and have racing experience. The most common way to begin is with private lessons, which many jockeys start at a very young age. Related work as a stable hand or in other positions that provide hands-on experience with horses can be helpful. Only a very small amount of college-level programs and courses exist related to horseback riding and, though beneficial, are not essential for becoming a jockey. Physical fitness and stamina are vital, and prospective jockeys must be keenly aware of the injury risks associated with horse racing.
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College programs devoted exclusively to training jockeys are somewhat rare in the United States; however, the North American Racing Academy (NARA) features a 2-year training program for aspiring jockeys. Students interested in pursuing this training must have completed a high school diploma or GED prior to enrollment.
A few universities offer post-graduate certificate, bachelor's degree and master's degree programs in equine science or equine business. These programs focus more on the business aspect of horse breeding or racetrack management and less on training to be a jockey.
Popular Career Options
Many potential jockeys begin their career working in horse stables or participating in programs offered through a local 4-H club. They may start working as a groom or stable hand, feeding and grooming horses, as well as checking them for health problems, walking horses to cool down after races and cleaning their stalls. With experience, an aspiring jockey can be promoted to exercise rider on a racetrack. Exercise riders warm a horse up in the morning before a race, monitor the horse for behavioral issues, and report observed health problems to the horse trainer.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that athletes and sports competitors, including jockeys, were predicted to see an employment increase of 6% from 2014-2024, which was as fast as average. As of May 2015, athletes and sports competitors make a mean annual wage of $80,490.
Licensure Requirements for a Jockey
A student with some experience in horseback riding can usually obtain a license for a jockey apprenticeship at age 16, but specific age requirements vary according to state. In addition, some states require jockeys to be a certain weight; most trainers seek jockeys who weigh 120 pounds or less and can maintain that weight in a healthy manner.
Many states require a physical exam to be performed annually or require that applicants submit a medical affidavit. Some states also require applicants to serve as a stable hand for a number of years, take an examination and complete a certain number of races before they qualify for an apprentice license. After running a number of races and slowly reducing the weight handicap allowance, an apprentice loses their apprenticeship status and becomes a journeyman jockey.
Horse racing jockeys are not required to have formal education, but training programs are available and most states have some kinds of licensure requirements.