Horse racing catches the eye of a wide variety of spectators—sports enthusiasts, horse lovers, gamblers, and those looking to enjoy a fun weekend outdoors. While the horses are the star of the show, each horse is manned by a rider called a jockey. You may think, “Awesome, they get to ride a horse for a living!” But though the job may seem “awesome,” it is also pretty treacherous. Here are seven facts that prove being a jockey is dangerous.

1. Jockeys wear a helmet, goggles, boots, and a padded vest.

Most other world-class sports, especially those occurring at high rates of speed, require uniforms with extensive protective gear—think NFL players’ pads and fire suits worn by racecar drivers. Under the unique colorful shirts, riders wear to identify themselves (called “silks”), jockeys wear protective equipment. However, it offers minimal protection in relation to the sheer size of the animals they are surrounded by.

2. Thoroughbred horses hit speeds of 40+ miles per hour when racing.

Thoroughbred horses are really fast, registering average speeds of 40 miles per hour while they are racing. In bursts, racehorses can even travel upwards of 50 miles per hour, which matches the lower speed of a cheetah. Riding on a horse that is able to reach these speeds with just the equipment listed above can certainly be dangerous.

3. You don’t want to get squished by a racehorse.

While all horses’ weights differ based on a variety of factors such as height, muscle mass, genetics, and breed, most racehorses weigh around 1,000 pounds. They also have an average height of 15 or 16 hands. This is the equivalent of 60 to 66 inches tall (around five and a half feet). If that horse falls on you or accidentally steps on you—ouch.

4. Jockeys hover above the saddle while racing. They do not sit.

Jockeys perch over the saddle with their feet in stirrups, balancing above their horse. They must take great care not to lose balance or fall. If they do fall, the results could be catastrophic. They’ll have to contend with massive horses, hooves, high speeds, and metal rails surrounding the track.

5. Most jockeys are of a slight build.

There are rules that govern the weight of the equipment the horses can carry, including the jockey. Typical riders weigh around 120 pounds, although the maximum weight varies based on the type of league and race. Riders also tend to be shorter since it is challenging for a tall person to meet the weight requirement and still have the muscle needed to manage their horse on the track safely.

6. Some jockeys use unhealthy strategies to meet the weight requirements.

To lower their weight and ensure they can meet requirements, riders sometimes resort to starvation, limiting calories and fluids, and other compromising strategies. Jockeys are at increased risk of anorexia and bulimia. These tactics result in a weakened body, which can, in turn, lead to dangerous consequences for one’s health and an increased vulnerability to injury.

7. Animals have a mind of their own.

Any game or event involving animals is entertaining purely because animals have a mind of their own. All horses found on a race track undergo extensive training, and jockeys work hard to create a trusting bond between themselves and their horse to mitigate unpredictability. However, when riding animals, there is always the element of the unknown.

Though jockeys must enjoy the work, you can’t help but think that every now and then, a close call leaves them terrified.

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Last Update: August 10, 2021