There are many people up and down the country who enjoy riding horses. Some of them enjoy it so much that they will get involved with competitive events, taking part in the likes of point-to-point races or even racing in some of the biggest events in the country.
At some point, though, there is a desire for them to take their career to the next level, riding not just for fun but for money. They decide not to ride as an amateur, but to turn professional, being hired by some of the best-known trainers and owners in racing to race for them.
The question is, what is the process behind that? There are some jockeys that have been riding as either Apprentice jockeys or else under a Conditional Licence that need to become professional simply by virtue of the fact that they have ridden out their claim, but there are others that choose to do so because they no longer want to ride as an amateur.
At the time of writing, there are about 450 professional jockeys in the United Kingdom, with another 300 or so riding as amateurs. When they want to become professional, what do they need to do?
Apprentice & Conditional Jockeys Explained
No one goes straight from getting onto the back of a horse to becoming a professional jockey. Instead, there is a part of their career when the majority of riders do so under the licence of being either an apprentice or a conditional jockey. In flat racing, they are known as Apprentice jockeys, whilst in jump racing they are referred to as Conditional jockeys. In essence, it is the same thing, which just the way in which they work being the difference between how the jockeys tend to be seen. Either way, they get a seven pound allowance in weight when they ride.
The hope is that the horse gets a slight advantage from carrying less weight that will help to make up for the fact that the jockey is less experienced. The theory behind it is that it will even out the field and make it more competitive. When it comes to jump racing, a jockey’s allowance is reduced to five pounds after they’ve enjoyed 20 wins and three pounds after 40. The point at which they have ridden to victory 75 times is when they lose their claim and make the shift to become a fully professional rider, getting no allowance.
In flat racing, things work slightly different for an Apprentice. They still get the seven pound weight allowance and it still drops to five pounds after 20 winners, but the move to three pounds doesn’t come until they have ridden 50 winners. Similarly, the point at which they are no longer considered an Apprentice and have to turn professional is after 95 winners, rather than 75. When you read a race card, it will say next to their name a number in brackets, namely (3), (5) or (7), if they have an allowance in place because of their status.
Riding As An Amateur
The other category of rider is to be an amateur. These are people that choose to ride horses not for the payment that they might receive, but for the pleasure of it. They still need to be licensed in order to take part in races, with the Category A Licence allowing them to take part in competitive races against other amateurs. You might well have noticed in some big races, including the likes of the Gold Cup and the Grand National, that some of the riders are amateurs. That is because they are allowed to ride against professionals once they have obtained their Category B Licence.
Regardless of whether someone wants to ride as an amateur or a professional, there are certain pre-requisites to them doing so. The good news for the horse lovers amongst you is that you don’t need to get any formal educational requirements before beginning life as an amateur.
As long as you have a GCSE or equivalent in English and mathematics, you’ll be fine. The field to becoming a jockey is open to those aged 16 or older, with strength and fitness being two of the most important factors for aspiring jockeys to make sure that they hit.
The Move To Turning Professional
If you want to take your riding career to the next level, it isn’t as easy as just turning up at a training yard and asking for money in exchange for riding a horse. Instead, you’ll need to complete the Foundation Course (Level 1 Diploma in Racehorse Care). That then allows you to work at a trainer’s yard as a racing groom. During this period, the trainer will have you ride the horses for numerous reasons, using it as a chance to assess your ability in the saddle. If they think you’re good enough, they’ll apply on your behalf for you to attend a Jockey Licence Course.
The first thing that you’ll need to do is to pass a pre-assessment. Success in that will allow you to join a two-week course to become either an Apprentice or a Conditional jockey. This is when you will prove how dedicated, motivated and skilled you are, showing off your horsemanship skills. Sadly, the biggest impediment to becoming a professional jockey for many is their weight. Flat jockeys are usually in the region of eight stone, whilst jump racing jockeys can go up as high as nine stone and seven pounds. Jockeys are, after all, professional athletes.
Once a jockey has turned professional, they will be able to negotiate fees with various trainers. It is entirely possible for jockeys to earn decent money, though the reality is that they’re not going to earn as much as professionals in other sports.
The average self-employed jockey will take home about £30,000 after tax, for example, which isn’t even close to being as much as the 200th highest-earning player on the PGA Tour earned in 2016, which was around £215,000. Amateurs do it for the love, but so do most professionals.