A good horse can struggle without a good jockey, and a good jockey is useless without a good horse underneath. Together the horse and rider comprise a team where the horse does most of the work, but the rider gives the instructions. All-time winningest rider Russell Baze once said of his career, “the horse deserves 90 percent of the credit,” but the 10 percent he provides can be crucial in a sport where “winning by a nose” is commonplace.
A jockey can urge a mount in a few different ways; with his hands, his whip and his voice. Russell Baze is known amongst his fellow riders for his frequent and loud application of his voice, of which he once said, “A lot of riders don’t use their voice. Why give up a third of your artillery like that?”
A carefully trained eye can see how a rider uses his hands to coax his horse during a race; before going to the whip a rider can usually be seen shaking the reins with his hands to encourage his horse to go faster. The whip can be used to make a horse go faster, but it also has a second application; to keep a horse from drifting in the stretch. A jockey must be careful that a horse doesn’t wander about in the homestretch, lest he be disqualified for interfering with the opposition or losing ground and tiring late. A left-handed whip-tap can be used to stop a horse from drifting in, while a right-handed whip-tap would help prevent a horse from drifting right.
It’s also important for a jockey to develop a rapport with the horse, in order to figure out how to get the most out of it. The legendary Seabiscuit, winner of countless stakes races in the 1930’s whose story was documented in a movie in 2003, was notorious for being lazy and quirky. Red Pollard, his longtime rider, discovered after trial-and-error that the best way to handle Seabiscuit was to not urge him until the quarter pole, and to simply show him the whip to call him for his run. It was a highly unorthodox procedure, but Seabiscuit ultimately won enough races to become the richest horse in the world when he retired.
Pollard’s technique goes to show that a good jockey must adapt to the running style of the horse. When a horse is taken out of his element because a rider wants to race the way he wants to race, bad results usually follow.
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