How Jockeys Handle Psychological Stress

How Horse Jockeys Handle Psychological StressBeing a jockey is tough. That’s why they are considered one of the toughest athletes on the planet. After all, they are riding horses at 40mph in muddy terrain with 10 or more competitors’ inches away, where a million things can go wrong.

Horse racing is also one of the most dangerous sports on the planet. Running on a horse where you cannot accurately predict its actions can lead to devastating injuries even deaths. According to recent statistics, on average two jockeys receive a fatal injury per year, and 60 of them are paralyzed.

Thousands of people have their eyes on the jockeys, racehorse owners invested a lot of money in the process, which translates to a lot of weight on their shoulders. Plus, they need to worry about their safety at all times.

I’m writing about this topic because I’m a leading Behavioral Change Expert,  and founder of The Anxiety Cure Course – which is a therapist-recommended online program all about reducing stress.

This career is very stressful!

And so being physically fit is not enough. You need to have a strong mental health. Jockeys deal with a lot of stress throughout their career, and managing psychological stress is very important for success.

Here are some of the methods that jockeys use to manage the psychological stress of the tense horse racing industry.

Understanding the Pressure

Before we dive deeper into how jockeys handle their psychological stress, we need to fully understand where this stress comes from. Let’s get in the shoes of a jockey to find out what’s really like to be a professional horse rider.

You are on top of a thousand-pound animal, surrounded by 5-10 more running close to you, racing at 40mph, with thousands of spectators watching your every move.

Bear in mind that most of them placed a bet on you or any other horse, which means that spectators often have more passionate expressions during a horse race. Betting on horse racing is simple, but if you don’t know how to do it, you should probably check out a guide.

All of the things mentioned above add more psychological stress to the jockey. This is their daily reality, and jockeys are prepared to face immense pressure when performing, especially in big races like the Preakness Stakes.

Additionally, jockeys cannot afford to make a mistake. There is a lot of money on the line, and the horse usually gets one chance to race in a high-end race like the Kentucky Derby. Therefore, they are constantly evaluated based on their performance, which adds another layer of stress.

We shouldn’t forget about their career and reputation. After all, they choose this profession with a goal to make money, and every win or loss will affect their reputation, career prospects, and income.

How Do Jockeys Handle The Pressure

Mental Preparation

As we mentioned before, physical fitness is just as important as being mentally sharp. Therefore, jockeys prioritize mental preparation as much and, in some cases, more than physical training.


Well, jockeys use different strategies that will help them handle all the pressure from high-tense events. They use techniques such as visualization, mindfulness, and positive self-talk in order to stay focused under pressure.

The strategies that jockeys often use to stay mentally prepared during stressful moments vary depending on the jockey’s personal characteristics. Some use breathing techniques that will help them calm, others use unique routines and rituals that give them a sense of familiarity and control of the outcome, and some choose to meditate before a race.

Plus, most of the jockeys avoid reading all the news days before the event, which helps them have a clear head that will focus on the riding, and not on the drama of what the media is saying.

Support Systems

It is important to mention that jockeys are not alone in this process. Their mental health is constantly observed by a team of professionals, which include sports psychologists, mentors, and trainers who provide essential support.

Even though horse racing feels like a one-man and horse show, the reality is that these jockeys are backed up by many people who help them throughout their careers. These experts help jockeys develop coping strategies, help them stay mentally focused at all times, and work with them to maintain a healthy mindset throughout their careers.

Physical Fitness

A strong body contributes to a strong mind. Jockeys focus on physical fitness through rigorous exercise routines, balanced nutrition, and adequate rest, all of which play a crucial role in managing stress and enhancing performance.

Challenges Faced

Injury Risks

The physical demands of horse racing expose jockeys to the risk of injuries, which can have a significant impact on their mental well-being. Coping with pain, rehabilitation, and the fear of re-injury adds to their stress levels.

Unpredictable Nature of Racing

Horse racing is inherently unpredictable, with factors like weather, track conditions, and the behavior of horses adding to the uncertainty. Jockeys must adapt quickly to changing circumstances, adding to their mental workload.

Importance of Mental Health

Performance Impact

A jockey’s mental state directly influences their performance on the track. Positive mental health leads to better decision-making, focus, and resilience, all of which are critical for success in this competitive sport.

Long-Term Well-being

Prioritizing mental health is not just about winning races; it’s about sustaining a long and fulfilling career. Jockeys who manage stress effectively are more likely to enjoy longevity in the sport and lead balanced lives outside the track.

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