In a game of gaps, a jockey can mean the difference between winning and losing.
So take pride, it’s more than just sitting on a horse.
In fact, only a few can make a profession out of it.
Hence, in order for you to master how to become a professional jockey, you’ve got to do what others aren’t willing to do: work your way up to the top.
This simplified guide can help you jump from amateur and apprentice to dream come true, professional jockey.
Don’t skip the important steps towards success. Let’s start with the basics.
What is a Jockey?
The Australian Rules of Racing defines a jockey as:
“Rider, apprentice jockey, approved rider, or any other person who rides a horse in a race, official trial, jump-out or during trackwork.”
The origin of the word “Jockey” is confined to a “jock”, colloquial name for a “boy”.
But now this is a misnomer.
The number of female jockeys in Australian horse racing has increased from 52.7 to 65.5 in the last months, according to Racing Victoria figures.
A professional jockey meanwhile needs to have a license.
This you can obtain from the racing authority in your state or territory.
The Jockey Licence (Jockey Licence) is granted to experienced, professional jockeys. A holder of a Jockey Licence has no restrictions or limitations as to where he or she can ride in flat races, other than Picnic race meetings, and is eligible for premium annual entitlements and benefits.
In other words, a jockey is licensed to ride a horse, compete and follow instructions from a trainer to win the race.
What are the Physical Requirements?
The biggest battle on how to become a professional jockey is to keep the weight down.
To be able to race in city tracks, a jockey in Australia should weigh a minimum of 53 kg and 54 kg for country tracks. This body weight should include the weight of the saddle.
There is no height requirement but the average jockey reaches between 4 feet 10 inches and 5 feet 6 inches. So far, 16-year-old Stephen brown at 6’2 claims to be the tallest in Australian jockeys.
Nevertheless, to speed up to 40 miles per hour, make sound decisions and face the pressure, jockeys need to be strong and fit—physically, mentally and emotionally
After all, you will be controlling a thousand-pound animal in your 50-kg weight.
It’s do or die.
If you can’t meet the weight requirements on race day, you’re a candidate for suspension, aside from paying fines.
How young can one start racing professionally?
You can start competing at the age of fifteen.
In their jockey licensing requirements, Racing Victoria grants jockeys the license to race in as young as 15 years of age.
But the youngest jockey ever to race was Peter St Albans. He was 13—failed to declare his age—when he won the 1876 Melbourne Cup.
Meanwhile, Danny Miller, at the age of 70, remains to be Australia’s oldest jockey having recently won cups at Newman and Moora before adding a second Collie Cup. Nope, he isn’t retired yet.
The good news, you could start young and plot out your riding career your entire life. Or even if you’re a late bloomer, it’s never too late to nurture and develop your horsemanship skills.
Is there a required training program to become a Jockey?
Yes. A big step in how to become a professional jockey is to get a license. Before you can do that, you need to complete an apprenticeship or training course.
This ensures you know how to ride a horse safely. And a proof that you know what you’re doing.
While jockey requirements may vary from state to state, it’s often mandatory to complete the Certificate IV in Racing, the jockey qualification in accordance with the National Racing Training Package.
There are no minimum educational requirements for this course but do prepare to pay around $11, 302 to cover for the 29 units (26 core; 3 elective) according to the Good Universities Guide. The training period will take anywhere from 56 to 80 weeks.
In New South Wales, due to the lack of jockeys, the state government even subsidizes vocational horse racing courses at TAFE’s Australian Racing and Equine Academy in Richmond.
But that’s not all. Before you can compete against other professional jockeys you should be able to achieve a certain number of horse rides or satisfy the apprenticeship experience required in the state you’re racing.
Do contact your local racing authority to know where you can go for the best apprenticeship or training opportunities.
How Much Can a Jockey Earn?
Stating an exact figure of what a jockey earns is complicated. It’s estimated that a jockey can earn an average pay of $48, 989 annually.
While the Australian Jockeys Organization claims over 50% of Australian jockeys earn less than $60,000 per year.
The truth is, the professional jockey riding fees vary per Australian States and Territories which as of 2017 are as follows:
|Territory||Fee per ride (exclusive of 9.5% superannuation)|
|New South Wales||$200|
Generally, winning jockeys are also entitled to 5% of the prize money earned.
In the Melbourne Cup, jockeys can win up to $200,000 in prize money for winning the cup and can bring home a miniature cup worth $10,000.
How to Become a Professional Jockey in 5 Winning Ways
It starts with confidence.
Let’s say you have a great horse under you.
But horses can sense emotions and will not run for an unsettled jockey. If you want to know how to become a winning jockey you need to forge your own path towards professionalism. Everyone’s journey is unique.
Hopefully, these practical tips can help nurture the gift and unleash the beast within.
1. Start from the Bottom and Learn
Many top jockeys of today didn’t come from horse-oriented families.
Some start out strapped of cash.
Other have zero knowledge in horses.
Take Dominic Tourneur.
At the age of 15, he had nothing to do with horses. But after a 10-week jockey course, he worshipped them.
The lad quit school and spent the rest of his life training. He’s now known as one of South Australia’s hardest-working riders.
That said, some professionals start at the bottom, grooming horses. Some go on to learn horsemanship skills working at a barn or volunteering in farms.
Others like Tourner, take the path of a working student. Some choose to enroll in a university, join equine communities or do their own research.
Surely, the hardest part of the profession is getting started. But you gotta start somewhere.
2. You’ve Got to Love Horses and Winning
Waking up at dawn, staying slim, risking your life—a career for horses isn’t for everyone.
You have to love the animal.
Because if horses can be your hobby, it’s easier to make it your business. For professional jockeys, riding is a way of life rather than a job.
If you don’t love horses, you won’t have the deep drive to place your horse for a win.
As retired professional Jockey Lester Piggott told the Guardian:
“You have to be interested in the character of a horse if you want to ride winners. You’ve got to know what they can do and how they want to do it.”
Read more: Is horse racing cruel ?
3. Get Schooled or Find a Master
Strive to learn. Most apprentice jockeys enroll in courses to hone their horsemanship skills.
Learning can go beyond horses too. You can take part in fitness training, healthy living, sports psychology—the knowledge and skills you can master are endless.
But it can help round you up on how to become a professional jockey and a responsible one that.
Some riders learn how to become a professional jockey from a horse master. Trainers. Horsemen.
Any post with a great trainer is an excellent starting point.
Taken with the right attitude, you can please a respected professional with your hard-work, do-whatever-it-takes passion.
The bottom line: attach yourself to a trainer.
Or forge a good friendship with one.
Like the solid bond between late well-loved jockey Roy Higgins and legend trainer Bart Cummings. It was Cummings who influenced Higgins on how to become a professional rider.
In the 1960’s the dynamic duo rose to the top of racing after Cummings took the jockey under his wings.
Roy Higgins has paid it forward thereafter, opening the doors for other champion jockeys like Damien Oliver and Gary Willets.
4. Fall, Fail and Ride as many horses as you can
This is one thing where all jockeys are all good at—falling.
Broken bones. Crooked joints. A Smashed toe. Concussions. Prepare for the worst.
A study at Hobart’s Menzies Research Institute, which analyzed 75,000 races, found on average professional jockeys in Australia would fall in one out of 240 rides.
At least 27% of that will result in injury. Out of 620 rides, one can result in death.
There are many hazards to the job of a jockey. But don’t let fear get into your head.
Is there a better way to fall?
“Sadly the art of falling safely just comes with practice. If you start riding at a young age, you soon learn to tuck and roll. You become very aware of how to fall and how to get out of the way and keep moving. If you land, you move yourself. Quickly,” Oliver Townend shared on the Telegraph.
More importantly, as an apprentice jockey, you have to be immune from criticisms. Take all constructively and learn from them. Fall, fail then get back up there.
Riders who made their own way on how to become a professional jockey also have this in common: they ride all the way.
Day in, day out, even seven days a week. Professional jockeys have ridden an exhaustible count of horses before making it to the top.
Because the fact remains: to become a fully-fledged professional you need to ride a certain amount of winners.
One of Australia’s greatest jockeys ever, Scobie Breasley rode over 1000 winners in Australia alone. As the first female jockey to win the Melbourne cup, Michelle Payne, now at 32 years old, has claimed over 700 winners but has ridden a thousand more before that.
Most impressively, Robert Thompson has rode 499 winners before turning 21.
He currently holds the record of the Australian jockey with most saddled wins at, 4341 champion horses, and counting.
He has ridden more than 26, 342 horses (and counting) spanning his 45-year career. At the age of 60, he won’t be retiring yet.
The bottom line: Races aren’t every day but ride and gallop a horse as often as you can. There’s no other way to do it.
5. Chase the Thrill
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are powerful.”
One study says being a jockey is the most dangerous job ever. Riskier than being a boxer or a fisherman.
Yet dangers aside, they say the jockey accounts for only 10 percent of a horse’s performance.
Then again, you will need to train as hard as the animal and live like an athlete for the rest of your career.
Few would dare to live a life under a strict routine of diet, exercise, training, and discipline.
In other words, in order to master how to become a professional jockey, you need to be an adrenaline addict. Whose cravings can only be satisfied by horse racing.
Knowing what you want at such an early age is a big advantage. It can get you on track.
However, in order to last in a sport of surprises, upsets and misfortunes, the will to win is most important.
Call it persistence, drive or determination. Being consistent on giving your 100% can set you apart from 99% of aspiring jockeys out there.
Ultimate Achievements Await
There are 842 jockeys in Australia, racing at 360 racecourses, joining over 2,634 meetings.
The nation stops at one race but throughout the year there are 19, 235 others.
Read more: Melbourne Cup 2018
You can ultimately learn how to become a professional jockey against all the odds.
What’s in it for you?
Obviously, the ultimate achievement is winning.
You can win everything more than once and make history.
Your opportunities aren’t limited to one country.
You can see the world and ride overseas.
At the end of your career, you could end up in the Australian Hall of Fame alongside legends. Maybe you can have a race, or a street, named after you.
Sure, success can be based on statistics.
But for every professional jockey out there, goals are personal.
At the end of the day, maybe what matters to you is you can give your family a good life they deserve. As you go and live the dream. At least life is not a race. You can get there.