Modern Riding Style Improves Horseracing Times
16 July 2009
Today’s modern horseracing posture for jockeys – seen by many as uncomfortable – has sound scientific foundations, according to new research from the Royal Veterinary College. It shows the enhanced race-time performance that the crouched jockey enjoys derives from the posture freeing the horse from having to support accelerating the jockey through each of its stride movements. Instead, the crouched posture means the horse has to support only the body weight of the jockey.
Writing in the latest edition of the prestigious Science journal, the team from the College’s Structure and Motion Laboratory suggests that the posture has benefited racing performance since its introduction around 1900, when a general improvement in race times that has never been bettered was recorded.
The crouched, rather than seated, posture that jockeys adopted around 1900 led to improvements of five to seven per cent in major horserace times and records. Analysis of the winning times for the Epsom Derby Stakes from 1846 (when the recording of race times began) to the present day, for example, shows a substantial decrease in the ten-year period from about 1900.
The research team comprises Dr Thilo Pfau, Dr Andrew Spence, Sandra Starke, Dr Marta Ferrari and Professor Alan Wilson. Their research was mainly funded by the Horseracing Betting Levy Board.
The research team concludes that the modern riding style enhances racehorse performance by isolating the jockey from the motions of their mount.
Dr Pfau said: “Our research shows that it would be difficult or impossible for jockeys to isolate themselves from the movement of the mount were they seated or adopting an upright, straight-legged posture.
“In contrast, the posture used today means that the horse supports the jockey’s body weight, but does not have to move the jockey through each cyclical stride path. It’s important to note also that this posture puts additional strain on the jockey’s body; they have been shown to have near maximum heart rates during racing.”
A jockey represents about 13 per cent (about 60kg) of a horse’s body mass (about 450kg). The research showed that using conventionally-seated riders and sandbags led to an increase in mechanical and metabolic cost in the animal that was proportionate to the load. The cost of load-carrying is reduced when the jockey and the horse are coupled “elastically” – as they are when the crouched posture is adopted - rather than tightly.
Dr Pfau added: “We surmise that a jockey in the crouched position uncouples himself from the horse by moving relative to his mount. Interestingly, we also found that, in adjusting his position, the jockey slightly over-compensates for the horse’s motion. So, the fluctuations in the displacement and velocity of the combined horse and jockey may be slightly smaller than those of the horse alone. It could be said that the jockey is ‘driving’ the horse.”
For the research, 17 routine training sessions of five high quality racehorses with three jockeys were analysed using inertial sensors, GPS speed loggers and data loggers.
For more information about this research see the Structure and Motion Laboratory's Research Stories page: Modern Riding Style Improves Horseracing Times
Notes for editors
- The Structure and Motion Laboratory conducts research into the structure, function and biomechanics of the musculoskeletal system. Its research interests include the effects of health and disease on musculoskeletal function and specialization for elite performance. www.rvc.ac.uk/sml/
To request further information or an interview please contact:
The Royal Veterinary College
Established in 1791, the RVC is the UK’s longest-standing veterinary college—with a proud heritage of innovation in veterinary science, clinical practice and education.