Equine Science Update
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At the beginning of the last century, racing speeds improved dramatically. Race records show that at over a few years there was a 5-7% reduction in the times taken to run races.

What was responsible for this improvement was not a change in training or breeding, but a change in riding style of the jockeys.

In 1897, Todd Sloan, an American jockey, was the first to introduce a new style of race riding to Britain. Everyone else was still using an upright posture when galloping.

The new style involved the use of shorter stirrups and the now familiar crouched (“Martini-glass”) posture. Racing was transformed. Race times dropped as everyone rushed to adopt this new posture.

The crouched riding style has now become universal. And despite the best efforts of top trainers and breeders, such marked improvements in race times have not been seen since.

In fact, in the nearly 100 years since then the time taken to run the Epsom Derby has only dropped by a further 2%.

But how does changing the jockey’s posture affect the speed of the horse? Research performed at the Structure and Motion Laboratory of the Royal Veterinary College in London provides the answer.

“We had been looking at the literature and we saw that someone had shown that when humans wear a back pack that is allowed to slide up and down while they move they use less energy” explains Dr Andrew Spence. “That led us to suspect that when jockeys riding racehorses adopt this uncomfortable looking crouched posture, maybe they make the job of galloping easier for the horse.”

The research was carried out in conjunction with the British Racing School at Newmarket. Seventeen routine training sessions of five Thoroughbred racehorses with three racing jockeys were analysed. The researchers attached lightweight inertial sensors to the saddle and the jockey, and used GPS speed loggers to record the speed. So they were able to record the movement of horse and jockey independently and then compare them.

They found that the horse moves up and down with each stride but the jockey using the crouched posture follows a much smoother path.

“The martini-glass posture that the jockeys adopt is very good at letting their leg act like a shock absorber that soaks up the motions of the horse. This can save the horse’s legs a lot of work. The horse’s legs have to keep the jockey off the ground and support the jockey’s weight but they don’t have to do the extra work of making the jockey go up and down with each stride.”

So by adopting the crouched posture, jockeys isolate themselves from the motions of the horse. This reduces the energy the horse needs to carry the jockey, and so enhances performance.

The researchers point out that this posture requires substantial work by jockeys, who have near-maximum heart rates during racing.

For more details see:

Modern Riding Style Improves Horse Racing Times
T Pfau, A Spence, S Starke, M Ferrari and A Wilson.
Science (2009) 325, p. 289
DOI: 10.1126/science.1174605

Written by Mark Andrews. Published online 25.08.09.
© Copyright Equine Science Update  2009
Jockey’s posture has dramatic effect on speed.
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