What do you do for a living?

I’m a professional jockey on the Southern California racing circuit.

Jockey Salary

Joe working the horses in the morning at Santa Anita

How would you describe what you do?

We exercise horses in the morning and then race them in the afternoon.

What does your work entail?

The basic job comprises of mounting the horse in the saddling paddock, warming them up during the post parade, riding them in the actual race, and then returning them once the race is over. We also need to study the race and know the abilities of the horses we ride beforehand. After a race is over, we interact with the trainers and give them information and input regarding the horse’s performance.

What’s a typical work week like?

I wake up from 4:30AM- 6:00AM six to seven days a week to exercise horses for trainers. We don’t get paid to work horses in the morning, but need to do it as a way to keep up our business. The track is closed for training at 10:00AM. At Hollywood Park and Santa Anita we race four days a week (Thursday-Sunday) and at Del Mar we race five days a week (Wednesday-Sunday). If it is a race day, I go to the jockeys room after training to work out and study the races. If it is a non-race day, I’ll work out with a personal trainer then run errands, play golf, or go to the beach.

How did you get started?

I began going to the Fair Grounds in Louisiana at age seven with my dad, who worked as an assistant to trainer Connie Tassistro. At 11, I started getting on thoroughbreds for Zeke Zeringue at his training center.

What do you like about what you do?

Winning!!! I can’t really explain what it feel like to ride in a race, but I would guess its like being on the fastest, scariest, craziest roller coaster… times a hundred.

What do you dislike?

Losing!!! It’s a very tough job physically and mentally. We don’t have contracts and must work everyday to keep our business up. It goes back to the old saying: “Out of sight, out of mind.”

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

We earn our living by competing in races. The more races we win, the greater our incomes.

How much money do Jockey’s make? 

Jockeys are hired by horse owners to ride their horses in races. For each race, jockeys receive a minimum mount fee $60 and a percentage of the purse for first, second, and third. We make 10% of whatever the horse makes. The mount fee is paid regardless of the prize money that the horse earns for a race. Some jockeys make six figures, but many earn $30,000 to $40,000 a year. We also have agents, that we pay 25-30% of our earnings.

How much money did/do you make starting out?

A jockey can make anywhere from $0 to $2,000,000 a year. I got paid $40 a week exercising horses before I became a professional jockey. My first year, I made $200,000.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to become a jockey?

The minimum age to become a jockey is sixteen. I dropped out of high school at age sixteen to become a jockey because there are not any specific academic qualifications. It is an extremely good idea to take an entry-level position at a local racetrack or farm of walking horses, cooling them down after workouts, and exercising them. In order to receive a jockey’s license, the track officials will ask you to perform a series of tests (IE breaking a horse from the starting gate, switching stick from hand to hand down the stretch, etc.) as well as to provide recommendations from people you’ve worked for.

What is most challenging about what you do?

Weight is one of the most challenging things for most jockeys because we are required to weigh 110-115 pounds. I am very fortunate to not have a weight problem, but must maintain a healthy diet and exercise daily. For me, keeping a positive attitude when business is slow is the most challenging part.

What is most rewarding?

Winning races is the most rewarding part of being a jockey. I especially like when I’ve worked with a horse in the mornings for a long period of time and they win in the afternoon. It feels like all the hard work has paid off.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

I always tell people to keep a balanced diet, start at local racetrack or farm, and work hard. Horse racing is considered an exhilarating and glamorous sport, but jockeys need to put in a lot of hard work in order to become successful.

How much time off do you get/take?

Horses need to be exercised daily, so many of us work in the mornings seven days a week. We race in the afternoons four to five days a week depending on the current race meet. There is no horse racing season, so it is a constant day-to-day grind.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

I think people assume all jockeys make a lot of money or have weight problems.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

Professionally, my dream is to win a Kentucky Derby.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

Because we only get paid if we win, our income varies greatly every week.