Targeted off-horse training could help jockeys meet racing demands – study

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Picture by Clarence Alford

Researchers who have examined the physical demands of saddle jockeys suggest that a specific off-horse training program for them may well improve racing performance.

Jockeys are close to their maximum physiological potential in racing, the New Zealand researchers found.

The Massey University study team also identified differences in how jockeys rode in trials versus races. Practices are official mock races, but without the pressure of results-oriented results.

Event jockeys trained at a lower intensity than race jockeys, using their legs and arms to support and dampen the horse’s swings, and using their core musculature to maintain postural stability and minimize head displacement. .

Jockeys in races trained almost maximally in a lower squat position, with a higher proportion of hamstring activation, with their center of mass positioned further forward, using their legs, trunk and upper body. body to both dampen oscillations and control the horse.

“This position resulted in less vertical displacement of the head, but greater displacement in the medial/lateral and fore/aft planes than a test jockey,” Kylie Legg and fellow researchers reported in the journal. Animals.

“The differences in cardiovascular demand and riding posture among jockeys during trial and competitive racing indicate that there is a need for a physical training program specific to off-horse jockeys to improve the performance of racing jockeys. “, they said. Such a program could benefit the safety and career prospects of jockeys.

“Greater jockey stability and coordination will, in turn, have mutual benefits for horse welfare and performance, ensuring that both athletes perform to their maximum potential and allowing jockeys to have greater opportunity to positively influence horses in racing situations.”

In their study, the researchers sought to quantify the physiological demands, body movements and muscle activity of 12 jockeys competing in 52 events and 16 professional races.

Each jockey was fitted with built-in heart rate monitors, accelerometers and electromyographic garments, which recorded eight muscle groups while riding.

The researchers found that trials represented a lower intensity cardiovascular demand (around 81%), while in races they achieved near maximum intensity exertion, at around 94% of maximum heart rate.

In trials and races, the jockeys’ quadriceps muscle group in their legs was responsible for a quarter of the total muscle activity.

In the trials, muscle activity was evenly distributed between the jockeys’ legs (quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes, 36% overall) and their core musculature (lower back, obliques and abdominals, 39%). Their upper arm muscles, the traps and pecs, contributed 26% of total muscle activity.

This distribution differed for jockeys participating in races, with half (51%) of total muscle activity in the jockeys’ legs, trunk muscles contributing 35%, and upper arm muscles only 14% of the activity. total muscle activity.

The balance of muscle activity between the left and right sides of the muscle groups was relatively equal for the jockeys in the trials, with the obliques and trapezius having a slight left bias.

In the trials, lower body muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes) were activated at a dominant frequency similar to that of the horse’s movement, while lower back and upper body muscles had more variable dominant frequencies.

In races, the hamstrings had a left-sided bias and all jockey muscles had varying dominant frequencies, the study team found.

Average amplitude (M) of displacements (cm) and relative displacement (%) of the jockey to a galloping horse in (A) Trials and (B) Races, and in the vertical (y), forward/backward (x) and medio/ side planes (z).  Horse movements have only been measured for horse racing in trials.  All the differences between the movement of the jockey and the horse (at the trials) are significant.  * indicates the differences between the displacement of the jockey in practices and races.  Differences are shown exaggerated for clarity.  Image: Legg et al.  https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12182351
Average amplitude (M) of displacements (cm) and relative displacement (%) of the jockey to a galloping horse in (A) Trials and (B) Races, and in the vertical (y), forward/backward (x) and medio/ side planes (z). Horse movements have only been measured for horse racing in trials. All the differences between the movement of the jockey and the horse (at the trials) are significant. * Indicates the differences between jockey movement in practice and racing. Differences are shown exaggerated for clarity. Image: Legg et al. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12182351

They described the differences in jockey position between trials and races as subtle. The differences are shown exaggerated for clarity in the illustration above.

They said the higher hamstring activation in running observed in the study could be the result of the lower “squat” position.

“A rider’s weight distribution is an important aspect of a horse’s ability to move freely and easily,” they said, with racing jockeys apparently having their weight positioned further forward than in trials and track work. This may have allowed the horse to move more freely.

“The jockey’s head displacement in the fore/aft plane during races was 50% greater than that of a jockey during trials, and was likely due to the jockey increasing momentum gains in the optimized oscillations associated with its weight shift, to positively encourage the horse to increase speed in the “push” to the finish line. »

The movement of the jockey’s head increased during a race. “This may have been an indication of fatigue, resulting in less efficient synchronous muscle activation, but was likely confounded by the extra activity of the jockey checking his position and pushing the horse forward in the later stages of the race. .”

Abdominal activity was halved between the first and last run of the day, indicating that this muscle group may have fatigued in race jockeys, leading to postural changes that may reduce their riding efficiency.

Trial riding, they said, appears to act as a transition between track riding and race riding, even though the posture of the jockey is similar for trial and working track riding. .

“Given that trials require less physical exertion and a different posture than jockeys adopt in a race, trials are probably insufficient preparation for racing.”

Jockeys rely on their skill and performance to get both trials and races. It is possible, they said, that apprentice jockeys do not have enough opportunities to “practice” and be fit for racing.

“Indeed, using the races themselves to build fitness implies that these jockeys are not fit enough to race, and the jockey would therefore not be performing to their best potential at this highest level of competition.”

Previous research has shown that jockeys who regularly compete in races and are assumed to be “fit to race” have greater success and a lower risk of injury in the event of a fall than the majority of jockeys who struggle to get several races.

Lower physical condition has been associated with a higher risk of falls and injuries in jockeys, and the suggestion of fatigue in racing jockeys may contribute to the higher risk of falls seen in jockeys with few races.

Advanced equestrian riders have a greater ability to anticipate horse movement at a neuromuscular level, with more defined and coordinated patterns of muscle activation than novice riders, resulting in greater rider stability and synchronization with the horse , which, in turn, is associated with less injury. danger to horse and rider.

“By improving the conditioning of jockeys, it is assumed that riding performance can be improved and the ability of jockeys to positively influence horses in racing situations will increase.

“Therefore, the importance of sufficient racing fitness for jockeys is not only to improve horse performance and welfare, but also jockeys’ safety and career longevity.”

The differences in cardiovascular demand and riding posture identified in jockeys during trial and competitive racing indicate the need for a physical training program specific to off-horse jockeys to improve their racing performance, with the potential to offer greater stability and coordination for jockeys.

This, in turn, would benefit horse welfare and performance, ensuring that both athletes perform to their maximum potential and providing jockeys with greater opportunity to positively influence horses in racing situations.

Further research comparing postural deviations and muscle activity of jockeys with experience, performance, and after specific jockey exercises could help form future endpoints for the development of safe jockey education programs. and successful in the racing industry.

The study team included Legg, Darryl Cochrane, Erica Gee, Paul Macdermid and Chris Rogers, all from Massey University.

Legg, K.; Cochrane, D.; Gee, E.; Macdermid, P.; Rogers, C. Physiological demands and muscular activity of jockeys in trial and racing riding. Animals 2022, 12, 2351. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12182351

The study, published under a Creative Commons Licensecan be read here.

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Richard V. Johnson