How To Ride A Racehorses

Features | 28th June 2024

It takes an immense amount of skill to ride a racehorse.

Here we look at the basics of riding racehorses and how the techniques have developed from the early days into today’s modern styles.

Seat Position

Jockeys ride with a significantly shorter length of stirrup leather than all other riders.

This forces them to take a completely different style in the saddle than those involved in eventing, dressage and general hacking.

Young jockeys are often taught to ride in the ‘martini glass’ position.

The lower leg is straight replicating the stem of the glass. The thigh is held at a diagonal angle and the body is horizontal to mimic the shape of a cocktail glass.

Foot Position

Most jockeys – both Flat and National Hunt – now have just their toes in the stirrups.

The heel is pushed down to be lower than the toes when in the race-riding position.

This has evolved over the years from when jockeys, especially over jumps, used to have their feet pushed into the stirrups further towards the heel to aid stability.

Modern methods show how important balance is when riding racehorses.

Hand Position

Racehorses are used to being controlled by the reins being in a ‘bridge’. This means that the left rein is fed through the left hand and into the right hand to form a loop and vice versa.

The hands are kept low on the horse’s withers (bottom of the neck) and are a thumb’s length apart on the reins, with the thumbs then tucked underneath to avoid them dislocating due to any sudden movements.

Racehorses are trained to lean into the pressure of a jockey’s hands, so the tighter the grip the faster they will tend to go.

Riding Styles

The influx of American jockeys in the late 1800s revolutionised riding styles.

Tod Sloan and Willie Simms were the first riders in Britain to shorten their stirrup leathers and use the now familiar crouching pose in the saddle.

At first, the established British jockeys and the racing media ridiculed this new approach to race riding. Eventually, with the incredible success of Sloan, Danny Maher, Lester Reiff, Johnny ‘Knickerbocker’ Reiff and Skeets Martin, attitudes changed forever.

Riding styles have been evolving ever since.

Jockeys With Distinct Techniques

Lester Piggott adopted a unique style due to his height. He seemed to be perched on top of his mounts with his backside sticking in the air.

Taller jockeys of recent years like George Baker and Adam Kirby have followed suit.

Pat Eddery – 11-times Champion Jockey – developed his own forceful style. His seat was lower and he tended to bounce on the back of the saddle, similar to how Luke Morris rides.

Frankie Dettori’s more streamlined approach to race riding is more in-keeping with how modern American jockeys ride. It, therefore, shouldn’t be a surprise he choose to end his career riding on the other side of the Atlantic.

Pat Eddery's Distinct Riding Style