Does Extreme Sports Have More Or Less Deaths Than Football Thoroughbred Racing – The Athleticism of Horse Jockeys

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Thoroughbred Racing – The Athleticism of Horse Jockeys

No athlete works harder than a jockey, and few athletes understand less. According to one study, which ranked sports by the number of deaths per 1,000 participants, horse racing is the most dangerous athletic activity, followed by skydiving, hang gliding, mountain climbing, scuba, college football and boxing. In an average year, the Jockey Guild receives 2500 injury notifications and a typical jockey is sidelined at least three times with injuries.

When a 1400-pound thoroughbred horse races at 55 MPH, it’s not just dumb luck that keeps a great rider. These highly-coordinated men and women must stand in the saddle, maintaining a very difficult balance to avoid falling forward or backward in the saddle (which can easily be fatal). While performing this enormous effort, they must simultaneously keep a cool head, “strategically calculating” the horses’ moods, processing large amounts of information microsecond to microsecond. They must practice a perfect athleticism, combining strength, coordination and calculation at the same time.

And then, there’s the whole weight thing.

Like wrestlers, jockeys’ lives are governed by a set of scales. If you don’t lose weight, you can’t race, and the weight that jockeys must maintain is almost unimaginably low for most average-sized adults. Horses were assigned to carry riders in different, graded weight classes, called “imposts,” and in the twenties ranged from 83-130 pounds. Jockeys during this “heroic, claw-footed era of American horse racing” were known to live on a 600-calorie-a-day diet, depriving themselves so much of water that they had to sleep in tubs. Ice cubes to prevent overheating and return to work within minutes of near-fatal injuries. Some of them would run for hours in the hot sun under layers of clothing, hoping to lose the last crucial ounce.

And the ones jockeys resorted to in the thirties were less useful. As Laura Hillenbrand points out in Seabiscuit, a late 2001 description of the horses of that name, jockeys were known to use homemade diuretics at the time, using Epsom salts and water and other concoctions to eliminate what they ate. Their bottles occasionally explode. Bulimia was common. Pneumonia and tuberculosis also arose, according to some historians, from anemia caused by the traumatic effects of malnutrition. Worst of all, some jockeys willingly swallowed tapeworms. After the intestinal parasites helped them “reduce”, they went on hospital visits and lost the worms until it was time to “reduce” again.

Today’s jockeys still have to deal with anorexia and bulimia, the frequent occupational hazards of the sport, weight requirements (dancing, gymnastics, running, wrestling). Most apprentice jockeys can’t lift more than 105 pounds, and fully experienced thoroughbred racehorses need to keep it around 113. For some, that includes a crazy travel schedule of up to twelve races a day. Most of all, jockeys must love horses, showing them the same respectful intuition and empathy that great trainers are known for. Only such an ability can enable them to make the split-second judgment calls that win races. And only such love can make pain, deprivation, toil and sacrifice worthwhile.

On the other hand, as exciting and enjoyable as watching thoroughbred horse racing can be, its practice can be debilitating. Whether you are a fan of horse racing gambling or just like the thrill of live horse racing, the game is as full of drama and passion as any other sport. Tip services can help you increase your enjoyment of thoroughbred horse racing by clarifying details and telling you who the favorites are.

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