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Thoroughbred Racing – The Athleticism of Horse Jockeys
No athlete works harder than jockeys and few athletes are less understood. Thoroughbred horse racing is the most dangerous athletic activity, beating out skydiving, hang gliding, mountain climbing, diving, college football, and boxing, among others, according to one study, which ranked sports by the number of deaths per 1000 participants. In an average year, the Jockeys Guild receives 2500 injury notifications and a typical jockey will be sidelined with injuries at least three times.
It’s not just dumb luck that keeps a large rider astride a 1400 pound thoroughbred horse while racing at speeds up to 55 MPH. These highly coordinated men and women must stand upright in the saddle, finding an exquisitely difficult balance to avoid falling forward or backward in the saddle (which could easily prove fatal). While expending this tremendous effort, they must at the same time remain calm, making strategic calculations “and reading” the horse’s mood, processing huge amounts of information from microsecond to microsecond. They must practice consummate athleticism, combining strength, coordination and calculation at the same time.
And then, there’s the whole weight thing.
Like wrestlers, jockeys’ lives are ruled by a scale. If you don’t get fat, you can’t compete, and the weights jockeys have to maintain are almost unimaginably low for most average-sized adults. Horses are assigned to carry riders in several graded weight classes, called “imposts,” and in the 1920s imposts ranged from 83 to 130 pounds. Jockeys during this period “the heroic, tough-as-nails era of American horse racing” were notorious for living on 600-calorie-a-day diets, depriving themselves of water so much that they had to lie in tubs of ice cubes to prevent overheating and get back to work within minutes of near-fatal injuries. Some of them ran for hours in the scorching sun under layers of clothing, hoping to lose that last crucial gram.
And those were the least extreme tricks the jockeys of the 1930s resorted to. As Laura Hillenbrand recounts in Seabiscuit, her gripping 2001 account of the great racehorse of that name of the late 1930s, jockeys then were known to use homemade diuretics in prodigious amounts, purging what little they ate using salts. of Epsom and water and other concoctions so potent that bottles of them occasionally exploded. Bulimia was common. Likewise were pneumonia and tuberculosis, caused, according to some historians, by weakness due to the traumatic effects of malnutrition. Scariest of all, some jockeys voluntarily swallowed tapeworms. After the intestinal parasite helped them ‘cut down’, they went for a hospital visit and shed the worm’ until it was time to ‘cut back’ again.
Today’s jockeys still have to be careful of anorexia and bulimia, frequent occupational hazards of this sport as of many others with weight requirements (dance, gymnastics, running, wrestling). Most apprentice jockeys can’t afford to weigh more than 105 pounds, and highly experienced Thoroughbred horse racers have to keep it around a staggering 113. (Naturally tall people are rarely able to enter Thoroughbred horse racing.) Other drawbacks include insane travel schedules of up to twelve rides a day, for some. Above all, jockeys must love horses, demonstrating for them the same keen intuition and friendliness that great trainers are famous for. Only that ability can allow them to make the split-second judgment calls that win races. And only such a love could make the pain and deprivation and hard work and sacrifice worth it.
Watching thoroughbred horse racing, on the other hand, can be as exciting and enjoyable as the practice can be exhausting. Whether you are a fan of horse racing gambling or simply enjoy the thrill of live horse racing, this sport is as full of drama and passion as any other. Tipping services can help you maximize your Thoroughbred horse racing enjoyment by clarifying the details and letting you know who the favorites are.
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#Thoroughbred #Racing #Athleticism #Horse #Jockeys