What Can We Learn From Horse Jockeys About Mindset And Determination

Competing in sport at the highest level is always one of the most gruelling lifestyles, with athletes forced to put their own hobbies to the side in order to achieve their goals for the season.

Side view of young female equestrian wearing black helmet carrying harness of brown purebred horse standing in paddock and eating grass
Photo by Maria Orlova from Pexels

Jockeys are among the most professional sportspeople in the world, as they will typically need to ensure that their performances on track take on paramount importance above all other things in their life.

That could often mean putting more emphasis on their career in the saddle than spending time with loved ones. Determination is one of the biggest factors that jockeys need to take into account, but what are some of the biggest sacrifices that athletes need to make in order to reach the top of the sport?

Performing Under Pressure

Life as a top jockey is a stressful experience, as there will be constant pressure to perform at the highest level throughout the calendar year. This can typically take its toll on jockeys that have no experience when it comes to riding the most famous horses in the biggest races on the calendar.

Therefore, it isn’t surprising to see jockeys with proven winning experience handed some of the biggest rides throughout the season.

Ryan Moore is largely regarded as one of the best jockeys in the world, having won all of the biggest races on the schedule throughout his time as the stable rider for Aidan O’Brien. Jaime Torres just won the Preakness Stakes for example, after many tries looking for a big break in his career and is now taking his horse Seize The Grey as a contender to the Belmont Stakes 2024 entries.

Dealing with pressure is a big factor toward achieving long-term success in the saddle, meaning that riders will always need to take time away from the course after steering some of their biggest winners to success. Performing under this stress at the highest level is often the difference between jockeys that are revered as world class, and those that are seen as solid jockeys.

Making Sacrifices

In order to reach the top of the sport, jockeys will need to make huge sacrifices. That includes missing social events such as weddings and christenings, as they will typically clash with huge events on the horse racing schedule. As well as this, jockeys will need to alter their entire life in order to reach the top of the sport, with their diet and exercise routines shaped around getting the very best performance in the saddle.

The diet is a huge adjustment for aspiring jockeys, as they will need to cut out fatty foods, and focus on an intake of a fibre-rich diet. One of the biggest sacrifices that elite jockeys make throughout the season is time with family.

Given that racing is an international sport, jockeys will typically need to spent time overseas when handed the opportunity, meaning that jockeys based in Ireland will spend long periods in the United Kingdom, France, and Australia throughout a season. This is only made more gruelling due to the lack of off-season in horse racing, with flat jockeys given just one day off during a season.

Maintaining a Sane Mental Health

Given the stress that many riders face within the sport, it isn’t all that surprising that many jockeys struggle with their mental health. A study from 2019 in the United Kingdom found that a staggering 87% of riders interviewed had suffered from depression, stress or anxiety throughout the previous season.

This report was backed up in the same year based on numbers accumulated in Ireland, which showed 52% of riders had symptoms of depression. These numbers are strikingly high, but it isn’t all that surprising given the issues that riders must contend with on a daily basis throughout a season of competition. There is always a need to claim race wins, as long losing sequences could hinder their chances of remaining within the sport.

Not only this, but jockeys that ride for leading trainers will know that they will need to produce a strong strike-rate, otherwise their position could come under threat. Dealing with mental health issues within the sport is now more flexible than ever before, with trainers taking greater care of their riders, especially those that are just making their breakthrough within the sport.

This care is vitally important for jockeys at the top level, and it has reaped rewards for jockeys on track in terms of big race victories.

What Else Can Be Done?

Riders are constantly faced with huge challenges to remain at the top of the sport, with race wins being the only currency that can ensure their long-term future.

Governing bodies from across the world are constantly looking for new ways to ensure that rider’s feel safe within the sport, and there have been long-term discussions centered around reducing the workload on riders throughout the season. This would be seen as a massive benefit to riders, as it will enable them to spend more time away from the sport with loved ones.