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This Is Why Jockeys Need to Be Light

When you look at jockeys on the racetrack and see how tiny they are, you often wonder how they handle a big racehorse racing down a track at full speed.  Which leads us to another question why do jockeys need to be so small and light?

Jockeys are required to weigh a certain weight to be able to qualify to ride in races.  A horse carrying weight limit is set by horse racing commissions requiring jockeys to be a certain weight to ride in races.  For a racehorse to run fast and finish first, the less weight he carries, the faster he can run.  As the carried weight of the horse increases, the finishing time of the horse decrease.    

Jockeys not only need to stay as light as possible, but they also have to maintain strength and fitness. We look at the why and how a jockey maintains his weight to prepare for a race.

A lighter ride

A lightweight jockey lessens the workload of their horse and helps the horse increase its speed.  The jockey’s weight directly affects the racehorse while racing; therefore, a heavy jockey carried by a racehorse makes it harder to run as fast as the horse is required to run to win the race. 

The less weight there is on a racehorse’s back, the easier it is for the horse to achieve speed and maintain the endurance to win a race. 

Although being lightweight is a requirement to be a successful jockey, weights are added to the horse to increase the weight at some races.   Certain races require a specified weight for a particular race. 

Each race track has a weight limit amount that each horse must carry for a race.   To reach that weight requirement, weight is added to the horse in small lead weights added into a saddle pad that the horse carries to reach the qualifying weight for that race.

In most cases, the Jockey Club assigns the amount of weight a horse should take, and the race tracks have to implement this standard.

For instance, if a race requires that all horses carry 115 lbs., but the jockey is only 110lbs., more weight will be added to the horse to comply with the requirements.

Why are there weight limits on a jockey?

The reason there are weight limits on jockey is simply because of the health of the horse.  Trainers and owners have all said a lighter jockey lessens the burden on a horse and allows the horse to run faster.  Heavier jockeys who weigh too much for the horse they are riding may induce lameness consistent with musculoskeletal pain on a horse.

How much does a jockey have to weigh?

Jockeys are required to be smaller, skinnier, and lighter, and stronger at the same time.  There’s a lot of discipline involved in being a jockey, and not everyone can be a jockey.

A jockey’s weight can vary slightly between 108 to 118 pounds (49 – 54 kg). At the Kentucky Derby, jockeys with their equipment can participate in a race while weighing up to 57 kg.  The average height of a jockey ranges between 4 ft 10 inches to 5 ft 7 inches (147cm – 170cm). 

Although there are no height limits placed on jockeys, they usually are short.  Taller jockeys will find it impossible to keep to the weight limits.  The taller the jockey, the more the jockey weighs.

Weighing in before a race and weighing out after a race

Any jockey must weigh in before all races to make sure the jockey and his riding gear, including the saddle, are at the correct weight for that particular race.

If a jockey is lighter than the weight the horse has to carry for the race, the weight will be made up of thin lead weights in a special saddlecloth that the horse has to carry.

After the race, the jockey must weigh in again with all his riding gear to confirm that the horse carried the correct weight.

Once all the jockeys weighed in after a race, you will hear the racecourse commentator announce, “Weighed in. Weighed in.”

How do jockeys maintain their weight?

To reach and maintain their optimum weight, a jockey has to be very disciplined. Through the years of horseracing history, jockeys have found and fine-tuned ways to maintain their weight. 

Life as a jockey is not always that glamourous as you would think.  It can be pretty tough as jockey constantly have to go through extreme measures to keep their weight down. 

Some weight-reducing tactics used by jockeys are extreme and not all that healthy, and quite frankly dangerous to their health.

The Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Arcaro once said, “Some jockeys will all but saw off their legs to get to the weight limit.”

Extreme weight loss methods used by jockeys

  • Skipping meals, some jockeys will skip meals to lose weight.  A study done on jockey’s health by The Chicago Rehabilitation Institute found that 69 percent of jockeys surveyed skipped meals regularly as a form of weight control.
  • Flipping is the term that generally refers to vomiting.  It was so common practice that flipping bowls were installed in jockey dressing rooms in times past.  Through the years, these flipping bowls have been removed by jockey clubs, but the practice remains.
  • Laxatives. Jockeys also use laxatives to help stimulate bowel movements. Laxatives are generally used as a remedy for constipation and used by jockeys as a means of weight loss.  Using laxatives causes the kidneys to overwork and cause permanent kidney damage.
  • Diuretics. Jockeys use diuretics to lose water weight from the body.  Diuretics also inhibit the body from reabsorbing sodium. Dehydration regularly should be avoided.  If a jockey feels he needs to restrict fluid intake to make race weight, he should take adequate rehydration with both fluid and electrolytes.
  • Saunas and hot baths are also a favorite of jockeys to lose water weight retained in the body.
  • Extreme exercise. Most jockeys practice exercises to control weight.  Jockeys often wear rubber suits and heavy sweatsuits while running to drop weight.
  • Diet pills are another extreme method of weight control used by jockeys to keep weight low.
  • Smoking, although not practiced by all, is generally used as an appetite suppressant by jockeys.
  • Jog around the racetrack.  Sometimes the difference between making the weight for a race can be as little as a few pounds.  Some jockeys will often just have a jog around the racetrack when they arrive at a racecourse to try and sweat out an extra few pounds.  After this jog around the racetrack, jockeys will weigh themselves again, hoping that they are below the maximum allowance.

It is important to note that under the Rules of Racing, the use of appetite suppressants, diuretics, and other medications are not allowed by jockeys.

What happens when a jockey is overweight for a race?

If a jockey weighed in too heavy for the race, the jockey might be replaced with another jockey.  Alternatively, the jockey can be permitted to carry ‘overweight,’ which will then be announced on the racecourse before the race begins.

However, no rider is allowed to weigh in at four pounds or more over the weight he is set to carry and will not be allowed to race.  Once a jockey has weighed in, jockeys are not allowed to change their equipment, and jockeys will be fined if the jockey is found to be doing so.

What does a jockey eat in a day?

A jockey’s diet is critical for them to remain light and healthy and keep their weight down.  Most often, first thing in the morning, jockeys will have a breakfast cereal with low-fat milk or some yogurt and fruit. 

Breakfast will be eaten at least an hour before the jockeys go out on a ride with their horses.

At lunchtime, jockeys will generally eat something light like a salad or pasta with a tomato-based sauce.  Jockeys cannot eat a heavy meal as it could affect their weight for the day. 

Dinner will always be eaten before 7 pm, and jockeys will often eat fish with a small portion of vegetables as their supper or have a liquid meal supplement like Sustagen.

 These days nutritionists recommend a high-complex carbohydrate, low-fat diet for high energy and weight control to jockeys.

Constant dieting may lower a jockey’s metabolic rate, so it should be avoided where possible.  Jockeys should eat three meals per day with foods from each of the food groups; bread and cereals, vegetables, fruit, dairy, and meat to stay healthy.

A sports dietitian can help jockeys with weight management programs and pre-race meal plans.

Exercise to keep their weight light

Jockeys have to exercise daily to maintain their weight.  For most jockeys, keeping their weight down is a full-time job.  

Cardiovascular exercise is necessary for jockeys to keep their fitness and endurance levels up. 

Jockeys have also to train lifting weights to strengthen their arms and upper body and their triceps and biceps at least twice a week.

Most jockeys ride in more than one race a day, and if they want to be in top form and ride well in all races, they have to exercise to be fit and have endurance.

Here are some of the exercises a jockey usually focuses on to stay fit and lean.

  • Cardio-vascular endurance.  To improve jockeys’ endurance, they may choose to run, cycle, or do a HIIT workout that includes cardio exercises.
  • Core muscle exercises include plank exercises; jockeys should maintain the position for an average of 3 minutes, scissor exercise, and flutter kicks.
  • Legs muscles – Quads, Gluts, and Adductors.
  • Balance training exercises include one-legged drills and one-leg squats.  The running man exercise is also an excellent example of a balancing exercise.  Jockeys can use special equipment like a BOSU, balance disk, or a balance board.
  • Upper body muscle weight training. Deadlifts activate many muscle groups, but weights also allow the jockey to focus specifically on his upper body.

There are many exercises available to choose from for a jockey’s exercise routine, like squats, jump lunges and resistance-band exercises.

Each jockey has a different workout routine, but most professional jockeys exercise at least five days a week to maintain their weight.

Health problems jockeys suffer from due to extreme weight control

A jockey’s body goes through constant extreme weight loss trying to make weight, and that can cause many health issues and nutritional deficiencies for a jockey. 

Some jockeys suffer from low bone density due to dieting, leading to higher frequency bone fractures when experiencing a fall.

Dental problems are one of the many health-related issues caused by strict diet control.  Flipping or vomiting, used as a form of weight control by jockeys, allows acid from the stomach to contact a jockey’s teeth and contributes to dental erosion.

Jockeys do not earn any money unless they ride.  Jockeys do not get paid for sitting on the sidelines when they are injured.  Jockeys need to stay healthy and continue to ride in races to earn a living.

How much can a jockey earn from a race?

Jockeys usually are self-employed and considered freelance riders.  Horse trainers nominate jockeys to ride their horses in races for a fee.  This fee is paid to the jockey regardless of the prize money the horse earns from a race.  The jockey makes a percentage of the prize winnings if the horse wins.

Employment of apprentice jockeys is indenture to a master/trainer, and there is a clear employee-employer relationship established until a jockey finishes his apprenticeship. 

When a jockey becomes a fully-fledged jockey, the nature of their employment and insurance requirements usually changes because they are then regarded as contracted riders.

A healthy, fit, and lightweight jockey can be a successful rider that can earn himself top prize money.

Suppose the prize money for a race is set at $ 2 million to be divided by the top 5 finishers, the winning horse’s owner will take home 62 percent of the prize money at $1.24 million.  A winning jockey gets 10 percent of that, which is $124,000 a nice payday for all of a few minutes of work.

The second and third place jockeys will earn 5 percent of their owner’s prize money $400,000 and $200,000, the second-place jockey will get a check for $20,000, and the third-place jockey will get paid $10,000.  Most jockeys can earn between $30,000.00 and $40,000.00 a year.

As for the remaining jockeys, they won’t make nearly as much money. Their ride is only worth a few hundred dollars.

Does wearing silk riding clothes help jockeys to be lighter?

Jockeys wear riding clothes made from silk for the simple reason that it is very lightweight and help to keep the weight of the jockey’s weight within the limit.

When a jockey steps on the scale before a race, he is weighed along with all his riding gear, including his saddle and riding clothes. 

For a jockey to qualify for the race’s weight limit, the jockeys’ clothes and riding gear must be made of extra lightweight material.  Silk is a durable, lightweight material that helps the jockey to be as light as possible in the saddle for a race. 

Colors and patterns

Usually, the racehorse owner chooses the colors and patterns of the riding wear silks. Riding silks are registered to each owner or syndicate to be easily identified during races.

Registering their colors and designs of the silk wear, owners can show the design is unique and is not assigned to someone else. 

Each owner can create their own personal brand for their jockeys.  The owners can choose colors, styles, and patterns that have personal meaning, like a family crest. 

Jockeys wear silks to announce the horse owner silently, and the owner’s silks become easily recognizable to racegoers after more and more races.

Generally, two jockeys are not allowed to wear silks of similar design and color in a race.  When one owner has more than one horse in a race, the owner will bring more than one silks set to a race with a different colored helmet.


Jockeys have to be lightweight so the racehorse they are riding can reach speed and maintain endurance to win a race.  The lighter the jockey, the faster the horse goes. It’s simple physics.

The lengths that jockeys go through to maintain their weight week after week has caused them to turn to the extreme, not so healthy measures to control their weight. These measures often cause severe health issues for the jockeys and are not recommended.

Sports dietitians can help a jockey with a weight management plan, rather than a jockey resorting to extreme unhealthy weight loss measures.

 A jockey’s failure to make weight for a race can lead to fines, suspensions, and simply causing him to miss races.  A jockey must be light so that he can earn a living.

A jockey that doesn’t meet the weight limit and doesn’t ride doesn’t get paid.

Anrie Diedericks

I've been around horses since I was 6 years old and started competing at the age of 9. Horses are my greatest passion and I am thrilled to be able to share my 23 (and counting) years of experience and knowledge with you.

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