Don't forget the jockey

Don’t forget the jockey: Horse-jockey interaction in Thoroughbred racing. Walker, A.M. and Witte, T.H.   Abstract The interaction between horse and jockey in racing is a fundamental partnership that can be optimized to achieve peak performance. Performance benefits have been demonstrated for major changes in jockey technique such as the change from seated to the modern martini glass posture. However, if the partnership between horse and jockey does not work effectively together in a synchronized and complementary manner then, irrespective of the ability of the horse, performance may be constrained and the risk of injury of both horse and jockey may be increased.   Jockey training techniques have developed rapidly in recent years to involve sport-specific fitness training and technique optimisation, often using mechanical racehorse simulators. Simulators allow carefully controlled, safe, and cost-effective training environments that can be used for prolonged periods to improve fitness, train neural pathways, and develop muscle memory. Simulator training allows the jockey and coach to focus on specific elements of technique with immediate and detailed feedback, which in some cases can include physical manipulation to improve position and help jockeys to ‘feel’ the correct posture. Furthermore, additional skills such as correct use of the whip can be practiced in a safe, repeatable, welfare friendly environment.   Our research set out to characterize optimum jockey technique, measure the similarities and differences between simulators and real horses, and to measure changes in ability between jockeys of different experience levels. Using wireless sensor technology we have identified targets for skill optimisation with the potential to form the basis for improved feedback to jockeys during training.   Optimizing Performance Extensive research has been carried out for many years to establish optimal breeding and training of Thoroughbred racehorses to improve performance, reduce race times, and minimize injuries and horse falls. Methods for early prediction of performance extend to genetic, physiological, and microbiological testing, and studies have become so specific that even the effect of girth tension has been investigated. This body of work has led to the refinements of tack, breeding, training, and veterinary care that underpin the sport and wider industry.   One aspect that remains under-investigated is the jockey. It is self-evident that the jockey plays an integral role in race performance and injury prevention, but the mechanics of the horse-jockey interaction have not been quantified. We do know that jockeys are not a passive load, simply being carried by the horse. On the contrary they are high-performance athletes who work hard during a race to isolate their movement from that of the horse and reduce the negative impact of load carrying on locomotion.   Research Recent studies funded by the British Horserace Betting Levy Board and carried out by the Royal Veterinary College in London applied modern sensor technology to measure the biomechanics of the horse-jockey interaction. Advances in technology have allowed movement and force data to be collected in the field for the first time. Data were collected to support and further develop anecdotal and historical theories, which is hoped will facilitate future training.   Improved understanding of the repetitive, cyclical movement of jockeys of varied experience and skill level helps to define optimal technique which can then be used as a model for trainee jockeys. Defining this model will provide opportunities to adapt training and feedback to best practice, as undertaken in other elite sports where such feedback has been shown to speed up the rate of skill development. In jockeys this approach has the potential to reduce the risk of injury and falls, and to improve welfare.   Simulator vs. Horse Our most surprising results were obtained when comparing racehorse movement patterns to the movements of a racehorse simulator commonly used for training jockeys. Movement of the simulator, when viewed from the left side, formed an anticlockwise oval trajectory while movement of a real horse, subtracting the effect of forward movement, moved clockwise. In other words, both moved in a cyclical manner but in opposite directions. The simulator also had a larger range of forwards-backwards motion while the real horse had a larger up and down movement. As may be expected, jockey pelvis movement was consistently measured in a cyclical trajectory opposite in direction to that of the simulator and horse. In both cases, the amount of vertical movement of the jockey’s pelvis was found to be less than half that of the horse, supporting previous work showing that the jockey’s legs act like a damper. The jockey’s legs effectively absorb the movement of the horse resulting in a comparatively stationary, stable position of the trunk, minimizing the impact on the horse of carrying the additional weight of the jockey.   Also striking was the difference in force through the stirrups measured during galloping on a horse compared to a simulator; the forces on the horse were more than double those on the simulator. This difference stems from the fact that the simulator cycles horizontally, rather like a rowing machine, resulting in a relatively consistent weight distribution through the stirrups. In contrast, a horse effectively jumps from stride to stride with an aerial phase resulting in higher force peaks (Figure 1). Interestingly, on a simulator left to right symmetry of stirrup forces were more symmetrical in elite jockeys compared to novices. However on a horse symmetry was not significantly different across experience levels, likely due to the inherent asymmetry from horse trunk roll that is absent in the fixed simulator, where there is very little sideways movement or roll for jockeys to accommodate.   The absence of trunk roll on a simulator eliminates one of the more complex elements of the movement to which a jockey must respond and adapt. The direction and timing of the sideways displacement and roll in horses is linked to gallop lead. The start of the stride coincides with the trunk rolling away from the lead leg before rolling towards the lead leg mid-stride and then away again just before the start of the next stride (Figure 2). This movement appears to have less effect on the stability of experienced jockeys who are more balanced and displace less during a stride cycle and may thereby be able to maintain a solid base of support, an important factor in the risk of falling.      These differences between simulators and horses raise important questions about the effect of training on a simulator. Although important in the development of sport-specific endurance and stamina, simulators may be deficient in precise skill and technique development.   Jockey Experience Epidemiological studies have highlighted jockey experience as a key risk factor for injury and falls. Novice jockeys are at higher risk of falling than their more experienced counterparts; however specific differences in technique have not been measured. As with most practical skills, technique changes as jockeys become more experienced. Experienced riders are more stable and balanced than novices. We have measured this as a smaller range of movement and more consistent movement after subtracting the effect of the horse or simulator. More even weight distribution is seen between the left and right stirrups during simulator training, although the importance of this is difficult to judge in light of the inherent asymmetry of horse motion at a gallop.   Whip use While the effect of using a whip on jockey position and riding technique requires further detailed analysis, our initial results indicate that with experience jockeys are more able to apply the whip at a specific target time within a stride cycle. Sensor measurements suggest that jockeys move more from side to side during a cycle in which the whip is applied, which combined with twisting of the upper body enables correct contact to be made for optimal effect and to avoid penalties.   Impact on Racing Defining and understanding what constitutes optimal jockey technique will inform future training and improve safety and welfare of both the horse and rider. By further understanding the differences between a real horse and a horse simulator, training of both novice and experienced jockeys can be optimized and simulators used for maximum benefit in training and rehabilitation. Any counterproductive exercises can be eliminated or adapted as appropriate.   Next Steps Further investigation is required into non-steady state events such as whip use, jumping, riding out of starting stalls, and riding a finish. Real-time feedback systems should soon be available to aid the development of specific skills, providing opportunities for the objective monitoring of training, development, and performance. In preliminary testing we have found that such feedback is most effective when jockeys have already established the basic neuromuscular fitness and control required for the repetitive cyclical movement exhibited by both racehorse simulators and real horses.   Conclusions Multiple factors influence the complex interaction between horse and jockey. Differences between a simulated and real horse gallop may limit the suitability of simulator training for skill development, but the benefits to cardiovascular and musculoskeletal conditioning and training cannot be contested. Non-steady state locomotion such as riding a finish or whip use significantly alters jockey movement and technique affecting their interaction with the horse, and these areas warrant further detailed investigation to ensure that any future changes to racing regulations remain evidence based.     Figure 1a     Figure 1b     Figure 1: Stirrup force profile during a) gallop on a real horse and b) simulated gallop from an experienced jockey. Red and blue are right and left stirrup forces respectively. The black dashed box indicates one stride cycle.   Figure 2   Figure 2: Horse pelvis roll during right lead (red) and left lead (blue) gallop. A positive roll indicates a roll to the right with negative a roll to the left. Each line represents an individual stride.
Simulators allow carefully controlled, safe, and cost-effective training environments that can be used for prolonged periods to improve fitness, train neural pathways, and develop muscle memory

The interaction between horse and jockey in racing is a fundamental partnership that can be optimized to achieve peak performance.

Performance benefits have been demonstrated for major changes in jockey technique such as the change from seated to the modern martini glass posture. However, if the partnership between horse and jockey does not work effectively together in a synchronized and complementary manner then, irrespective of the ability of the horse, performance may be constrained and the risk of injury of both horse and jockey may be increased.

Jockey training techniques have developed rapidly in recent years to involve sport-specific fitness training and technique optimisation, often using mechanical racehorse simulators. Simulators allow carefully controlled, safe, and cost-effective training environments that can be used for prolonged periods to improve fitness, train neural pathways, and develop muscle memory. Simulator training allows the jockey and coach to focus on specific elements of technique with immediate and detailed feedback, which in some cases can include physical manipulation to improve position and help jockeys to ‘feel’ the correct posture. Furthermore, additional skills such as correct use of the whip can be practiced in a safe, repeatable, welfare friendly environment.

Our research set out to characterize optimum jockey technique, measure the similarities and differences between simulators and real horses, and to measure changes in ability between jockeys of different experience levels. Using wireless sensor technology we have identified targets for skill optimisation with the potential to form the basis for improved feedback to jockeys during training.

To read more - subscribe now!