If horse racing is the sport of kings, it is the jockey astride the horse who becomes the king maker by winning the race. A career as a jockey has certain height and weight limitations, so tall and beefy athletes need not apply. Because the most a racehorse can carry in most races is 123 pounds, the average jockey keeps his/her weight between 115 and 121 pounds. Jockeys who compete for the biggest purses such as the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont, considered the "Triple Crown" of racing, keep their weights around 109 to 114 pounds.
Make friends with experienced horse trainers and owners. You'll need their recommendations to get your foot in the door working on the back side of a racetrack. "Walking hots," cooling down overheated horses that have just come off the track or from exercising, is among your first duties.
The next level on the road to becoming a jockey is getting a job as a groom, the person responsible for the daily brushing and cleaning of the three to four horses in their charge, as well as getting them equipped to ride.
The next stop in your jockey apprenticeship is to pony racehorses. You'll be seated on one horse and help trail the racehorse to the side by guiding him with a lead rope. This not only gives the racehorse some needed exercise, it also helps the horse get used to being lead onto the racetrack in this fashion. Your first chance to actually ride a racehorse will be as an exerciser, when you can gallop to your heart's content to exercise the horse on the racetrack.
Now you're ready for schooling race competitions, practice races that will help you understand how to come out of the gate and other racing techniques. Completion of these schooling races will enable you to receive an exercise license. Get started by competing in smaller races judged by track stewards who will evaluate things like how you handle your horse, your overall riding ability, and your ability to keep safe distances from other horses during an actual race.
Once you apply for and receive your jockey's license from the racetrack, you have a license which is valid to use at any racetrack in the country.
A jockey who rides a winning horse received 6% of the winning purse as a salary and all jockeys receive a fee called a jock mount ($35 to $50) each time they ride. During the course of a year, a jockey may ride several hundred different horses in as many as 1,000 races.
The lifespan of a jockey's career is short and intense due to the physical demands, but for those who love racing and horses, being a jockey can be an exhilarating way to make a living.