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In sport, a jockey is one who rides horses in horse racing or steeplechase racing, primarily as a profession. The word also applies to camel riders in camel racing.



The word is by origin a diminutive of "jock", the Northern English or Scots colloquial equivalent of the first name "John," which is also used generically for "boy, or fellow" (compare "Jack", "Dick"), at least since 1529. A familiar instance of the use of the word as a name is in "Jockey of Norfolk" in Shakespeare's Richard III. v. 3, 304.

In the 16th and 17th centuries the word was applied to horse-dealers, postilions, itinerant minstrels and vagabonds, and thus frequently bore the meaning of a cunning trickster, a "sharp", whence the verb to jockey, "to outwit", or "to do" a person out of something. The current usage which means a person who rides a horse in races was first seen in 1670.[1]

Physical characteristics

Jockeys have a reputation for being very short, but there are no height limits, only weight limits. A rider can be of any height if they can still make weight, but it is still generally limited to fairly short individuals because of the limits on a person's body.[citation needed] Jockeys typically range from 5' to 5'7" in height[citation needed].

The role of the jockey

File:Racecourse In Chester3.jpg
Six jockeys and their horses taking a curve.
File:Lautrec the jockey 1899.jpg
Toulouse-Lautrec - The Jockey (1899).

Jockeys are normally self employed, nominated by horse trainers to ride their horses in races, for a fee (which is paid regardless of the prize money the horse earns for a race) and a cut of the purse winnings. In Australia, employment of apprentice jockeys is in terms of indenture to a master (a trainer); and there is a clear employee/employer relationship. When an apprentice jockey finishes his apprenticeship and becomes a "fully fledged jockey", the nature of their employment and insurance requirements change because they are regarded as "freelance", like contractors. Jockeys often cease their riding careers to take up other employment in racing, usually as trainers. In this way the apprenticeship system serves to induct young people into racing employment.

Jockeys usually start out when they are young, riding work in the morning for trainers, and entering the riding profession as an apprentice jockey. It is normally necessary for an apprentice jockey to ride a minimum of about 20 barrier trials successfully before being permitted to commence riding in races. An apprentice jockey is known as a "bug boy" because the asterisk that follows the name in the program looks like a bug.[2] All jockeys must be licensed and usually are not permitted to bet on a race. An apprentice jockey has a master, who is a horse trainer, and also is allowed to "claim" weight off the horse's back (if a horse were to carry 58 kg, and the apprentice was able to claim 3 kg, the horse would only have to carry 55 kg on its back) in some races. This allowance is adjusted according to the number of winners that the apprentice has ridden. After a 4 year indentured apprenticeship, the apprentice becomes a senior jockey[3] and would usually develop relationships with trainers and individual horses. Sometimes senior jockeys are paid a retainer by an owner which gives the owner the right to insist the jockey rides their horses in races.

Racing modeled on the English Jockey Club spread throughout the world with colonial expansion.

Racing colours

The colours worn by jockeys in races are the registered "colours" of the owner or trainer who employs them. The practice of horsemen wearing colours probably stems from medieval times when jousts were held between knights. But the origins of racing colours of multifarious patterns that are seen today may have been influenced by racing held in Italian city communities since medieval times. Such traditional events are still held on town streets and are remarkable for furious riding and the colourful spectacle they offer.

Getting white breeches and bib, stock or cravat known as "silks" is a rite of passage when a jockey is first able to don silken pants and colours in their first race ride, and it has a parallel in how lawyers are spoken of as "taking silk". At one time silks were invariably made of silk, though now synthetics are sometimes used instead. Nevertheless, the silks and their colours are important symbols evoking emotions of loyalty and festivity.


Various awards are given annually by organizations affiliated with the sport of thoroughbred racing in countries throughout the world. They include:

Risk factors

Horse racing is a sport where jockeys may incur permanent, debilitating, and even life-threatening injuries. Chief among them include concussion, bone fractures, arthritis, trampling, and paralysis. Jockey insurance premiums remain among the highest of all professional sports.[4] Between 1993 and 1996, 6,545 injuries occurred during official races for an injury rate of 606 per 1,000 jockey years.[5]

Eating disorders (such as anorexia) are also very common among jockeys, as the athletes face extreme pressure to maintain unusually low (and specific) weights for men, sometimes within a five pound (2.3 kg) margin.[6] The bestselling historical novel Seabiscuit: An American Legend chronicled the eating disorders of jockeys living in the first half of the Twentieth century. As in the cases of champion jockey Kieren Fallon and Robert Winston, the pressure to stay light has been blamed in part for driving the men to alcoholism.[citation needed]

Women jockeys

Australia and New Zealand

During the 1850s amateur “ladies only” events were held in Victoria, Australia but women were not permitted to ride as professional jockeys or on professional tracks.

Although women jockeys were barred from riding at registered race meetings, in the mid-1900s Wilhemena Smith rode as Bill Smith at north Queensland racecourses. She was nicknamed Bill Girlie Smith because she arrived on course with her riding gear on under her clothes and did not shower on course. It was only at the time of her death in 1975 that the racing world was officially told that Bill was really Wilhemena. Subsequent inquiries revealed that William Smith was actually a woman who had been born Wilhemena Smith in a Sydney hospital in 1886.[7] In an era when women were clearly denied equality, she had become known as a successful jockey in Queensland country districts as 'Bill Smith'.

During the late 1960s restrictions against female trainers were lifted in Australia, but female jockeys were still confined to “ladies only” events, which were held on non-professional tracks.

The Victoria Racing Club in 1974 permitted female jockeys to be registered for professional “ladies only” events.

In 1978 racing rules in New Zealand were amended to permit female jockeys.

In Australia Pam O’Neill and Linda Jones, in 1979, were the pioneers that forced jockey club officials to grant women the right to compete on an equal footing in registered races against men. They were unquestionably the first women jockeys to be licensed to ride in the metropolitan areas of Australia. Previously women had been riding against men in Australia at the unregistered “all-height” meetings. Pam created a world record for any jockey, male or female, when she rode a treble at Southport on her first day’s riding.[8] Australia's top woman jockey, Bev Buckingham, became the first female jockey in the Southern Hemisphere to win 1,000 races. In 1998, in a fall at the Elwick Racecourse (Hobart), she broke her neck. She used a wheelchair until she regained her strength and was able to walk again without assistive devices.[9]

In 2004-05 Clare Lindop won the Adelaide jockeys’ premiership and became the first women to win a metropolitan jockeys’ premiership on mainland Australia.

Lisa Cropp won the 2006 New Zealand jockeys’ premiership for the second consecutive season.[10]

In 2005, Andrea Leek became the first woman to ride the winner of the Grand National Hurdle (4,300 m) at Flemington when she won aboard Team Heritage.[11]

Women today account for 17% of jockeys in Victoria. But, they receive only 10% of the rides, and are often overlooked in favour of male jockeys, especially in the cities.[12]

In some regions of Australia about half of the apprentice jockey intakes are female.[13]

United States

In 1969, Diane Crump was the first female rider ever registered to ride in a Thoroughbred race in the United States. This event was at the recently closed Hialeah Park Race Track in Florida.[14] Others soon followed suit and American women jockeys have proved their ability with Mary Doser winning six races on a card at Great Lakes Downs[15] and at least four others riding more than 1,000 winners each.[16]

The emergence of women jockeys in the 1970s followed a wider cultural trend in female interest in sports. The emergence did raise argument about the suitability of women in the demanding role of jockeys, and whilst there are a number of high-level female jockeys, the profession is still dominated by men.

Robot jockeys

To replace child jockeys whose use had been deplored by human rights organizations, a camel race in Doha, Qatar for the first time featured robots at the reins. On July 13, 2005, workers fixed robotic jockeys on the backs of seven camels and raced the machine-mounted animals around a track. Operators controlled the jockeys remotely, signaling them to pull their reins and prod the camels with whips.[17]

See also


This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

  1. Harper, Douglas. "jockey". Online Etymology Dictionary. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=jockey. Retrieved 2008-08-12. 
  2. McGarr, Elizabeth, "A Jockey's Life, Stage 1", Columbia News Service, Retrieved August 12, 2008.
  3. Training: Apprentice Jockey. Racing NSW.
  4. "Jockey insurance measure hits snag," Kentucky.com. Lexington Herald-Leader. (accessed April 2, 2006)
  5. Safety and Health in the Horse Racing Industry. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Accessed October 10, 2008.
  6. David Schmeichel, "Throwing up for a living - Bulimic jockeys common ... Going hungry," Winnipeg Sun. (accessed April 2, 2006)
  7. Just Racing Retrieved on 5 May 2009
  8. QLD Racing Retrieved 11 May 2009
  9. Australian Women Retrieved 11 May 2009
  10. AllWomenSport.com Retrieved 11 May 2009
  11. RVL Recognises Role of Women in Racing Retrieved 11 May 2009
  12. AllWomenSport.com A history of women in racing Retrieved 11 May 2009
  13. RVL Recognises Role of Women in Racing Retrieved 11 May 2009
  14. Diane Crump Retrieved on 5 May 2009
  15. Mary Doser Retrieved on 5 May 2009
  16. The Female on the Horse Retrieved on 5 May 2009
  17. Photo in the News: Robot Jockeys Race Camels in Qatar. National Geographic News. July 15, 2005. Accessed April 30, 2009.

External links

  • [1]. Jockeys' Guild.
  • Job Guide: Jockey. Department of Education, Employment, and Workplace Relations. Australian Government.


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