The trainers we use for the most affordable racehorse syndicates in New Zealand are especially important. So are the jockeys who ride work and ride the horse during a race. We want to give all the horses we syndicate the best possible chances of winning on the track. that means choosing a good jockey.
If you are new to racing, you might be wondering how jockeys manage to keep their balance during a horserace?
It has everything to do with their hands and balance.
The Monkey Crouch
An American jockey named Todd Sloan went to the UK in 1897. It was then he revolutionized the world of horse racing with his style of riding.
Prior to the arrival of Todd, jockeys at the time tended to ride with a straight back and dangled their legs down the sides of his horse. The difference was, Sloan, squatted high in his stirrups. Like anytime a new concept is introduced, it didn’t immediately catch on. In fact, the British called this awkward-looking position the “monkey crouch.” As Sloan got results, this new way of riding soon caught on.
Over the last 124 years, a jockey’s “monkey crouch” riding position has become the standard adopted by jockeys across the globe.
Of course, as the years passed, Jockeys have continued to refine and improve the “monkey crouch” method of riding. It is said that since the adoption of this riding technique race times have significantly improved by at least 10%.
A Jockey’s Balance
In the 1977 biography entitled “Grenville”, Jim Knight wrote the story of the great NZ jockey, Grenville Hughes. By the time Hughes retired in 1976, he was widely recognised as the best jockey of his generation. Apart from being a great tactician on the race track, his greatest asset was his wonderful balance when riding a horse.
Hughes learned that balance in the saddle and the correct positioning of the hands were paramount to the success of a jockey. This was drummed into him by his employer, Norman Cunningham, one of the great trainers of his era.
Back to Basics
Cunningham was obsessed with the two principles of balance and hands. Although Hughes had already been taught to ride, Cunningham took him back to basics. He placed him on his version of a wooden horse. He created a fence with solid round cross rails and used towels to serve as the saddle and twine for stirrups.
When Cunningham was satisfied that Hughes had mastered all the positions for the slower gaits, he soon moved Hughes into the canter position. When he ordered the canter, Hughes would simultaneously drop his hands on and slightly over the rail. Then he instructed Hughes to lower himself from the waist, raise his backside and the rail with his knees. When Cunningham called for a gallop, Hughes would change his riding position. He would flatten himself – horizontal from the crown of his head to the base of his spine. Throughout these training sessions, Cunningham would push, prod poke, slap, and tug until Hughes’s performance was faultless.
Years later Hughes went on to explain that he quickly learned perfect balance at speed. He did this by drawing an imaginary straight line from the bit, through the reins, forearms, knees, and thighs to the backside. He would ensure his chest was as low to the pommel of the saddle as possible. This approach helped Hughes become the outstanding jockey of his era.
Here in New Zealand, the best examples of this style of riding, are jockeys Opie Bosson and James McDonald. The international poster boy for the aerodynamic, flat line body position, is the world famous jockey – Frankie Dettori.
Cunningham was also a stickler for quiet hands. He believed jockeys should never stray from the wither or the neck until the jockey was driving the horse to the finish line. He could not emphasise enough the importance of a jockey keeping the hands-down, so there was no pressure on the horse’s mouth.
By keeping the hands in that position, it meant the weight from the jockeys shoulders bears down onto the horse’s wither and neck, not the mouth. Cunningham’s reasoning was simple: “when there is no weight on the horse’s mouth the horse will feel comfortable and will settle. They won’t be fighting you and using up precious energy. They will be yours”.
A jockey with quiet hands will naturally have better balance. Quiet hands allow the horse to run to its maximum potential. There is no better example of this than Melbourne’s newly crowned champion jockey, Jamie Kah. in 60 years of watching races, in my humble opinion, she is as close to perfection in both these fundamentals. Not only is Jamie the first female to win the premiership in the red-hot cauldron of Melbourne, but she is also the first jockey to do it by riding more than 100 winners in a season.
That did not happen by accident or good luck. It is possible because horses run better for her than most other jockeys. All because she is far more naturally balanced than her competitors.
Why is This Strategy So effective?
As highlighted earlier from the time jockeys switched to Sloan’s “monkey crouch” – race times have improved by about 10%. Researchers have now figured out why this strategy has been so effective.
Veterinarians in the Structure and Motion Lab at the University of London’s Royal Veterinary College have been working with the British Racing School in Newmarket. Their mission was to analyse the best and safest ways for jockeys to ride their horses. To determine just how energy-efficient Sloan’s pose was, they attached identical sensors to a horse’s saddle and to a jockey’s belt. The sensors recorded the movements of both horse and jockey as they raced around the track.
As you know as a horse and rider move forward, they also bob up and down with each stride. The researchers found that whereas a horse averaged a vertical change of 150 millimeters in each stride, the rider’s vertical displacement was only about 60 millimeters. Jockeys “don’t follow the movement of the horse but stay relatively stationary,” says co-author Alan Wilson. By, in effect, floating above his mount, the jockey saves the energy the horse would otherwise expend to shove him back up after each bounce down into the saddle.
Doing this is “very hard work,” says Wilson, because the rider uses his legs in their short stirrups as springs or pistons. “It’s a bit like skiing moguls,” he says. Indeed, a jockey’s heart rate while racing can reach 190 beats per minute.
In conclusion, the opinion of the experts conducting the research was unequivocal. No other change has brought such dramatic improvements in racing speed than the jockeys who adopted the Sloan ‘Monkey Crouch” technique. The average times of 109 seconds per mile in the 1890s fell dramatically at first. This continued to improve in small increments as jockeys refined the method. For most of the latter part of the 20th century until today, times have settled at less than 95 seconds per mile.
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