The below excerpt was taken from The Telegraph written by Brough Scott in 2001:
"If the core principles of Piggott's brilliance remained constant, the actual mechanics of his riding began to change. The Derby victories of Never Say Die (1954), Crepello (1957) and St Paddy (1960) all reveal a jockey riding in a more traditional, longer-leathered style. But by the time Sir Ivor (1968) and Nijinsky (1970) came around, the Piggott method had become the short-stirruped, bent-hairpin style which became his trademark and which inspired the traditionalist rebuke of "not so much a jockey as a talented acrobat".
To ride so short actually makes more demands on your balance and strength and indeed courage which was a quality with which Piggott has been quite incredibly endowed. Say what you like about Lester's behaviour (and many did!) no one doubted the quite astounding physical courage which underpinned his talent.
Lester likened the strength needed to ride short to that in standing on one leg compared to walking down the road. But all of this is as nothing if you don't have the understanding of what is beneath you and then the nerve to wait to play your hand."
This is a rather thorough and typical analysis of Piggott and refers to him riding with a shorter leather. I have tried to document that our modern jocks are riding with shorter leathers, but I cannot. I know one logical reason why Piggott is said to have changed his style in mid-stretch from the 1950s to the 1960s was that he grew an extra few inches. A taller jock has problems unique, but I doubt seriously a taller jock would specifically conclude he would be better off riding with a shorter iron. This simply does not make good mechanical sense to me or most anyone else that has had riding experience. I may be wrong, but the stirrup lengths seen in racing photographs 50 or more years ago seems to show a typical seat with a jock's legs no lower than today's. So what is happening? I would guess that Piggott found this traditional seat of crouching low next to the horse much harder to comfortably maintain with his growing stature as an adolescent to adult. He naturally sought a more comfortable position. He found it much less stressful to not crouch so low to the horse, but keep his rear hoisted higher in the air relieving stress on his bent knees. He kept his head down close to the horse, but his rear-end comfortably high up in the air resulting in his famous bent- hairpin trademark seat. For a jock to ride close to the horse, particularly if he is taller would put more stress on his stamina. Modern jocks find the higher seat less tiring and they can get away with it with the wide spread acceptance of this style. It is as simple as that!
The ex-jock and mystery author, Dick Francis, writes in the Lester Piggott biography, A JOCKEY'S LIFE:
'Lester's style of riding has been to a great extent dictated by his height, and as he has said when comments have been made about his famous behind sticking up in the air, "Well, I've got to put it somewhere." The shortness of his stirrup leathers, now universally copied, was not much to do with serious theories of race-riding, but mostly the result of the introduction of the starting stalls. The English variety of stalls are narrow and inside have a small ledge along each side which a jockey can step onto if he needs to. With the longer stirrup leathers, too much of the leg lies below the ledge: Lester got tired of bumping his knees on it as his mounts plunged out of the stalls and shortened his leathers to bring them up higher. His knees escaped battery and a new style was born. He rode with longer leathers out at exercise and for trial gallops, but found the very short leathers beneficial to the horse for racing: the jockey's weight is poised above the horse's shoulder, where it causes least interference to the horse's action. '
Lester Piggot writes of himself in his autobiography, LESTER:
"The matter of my riding style has exercised many people over the years, but the explanation is really quite simple. As Flat jockeys go, I am very tall and so in order to achieve the right mix of comfort in the saddle--which is a great deal to do with balance--and effectiveness in getting down to drive my horse as forcefully as I can, the bottom goes higher in the air than is usual with other, shorter jockeys."
So, yes, in the end, Piggott was a genius, but was it really the product of his new seat style? I highly doubt it. He was riding well before this personal style evolution. Lester is a complete horseman and dissecting his talent only to his seat style is misleading. I would like to believe that he was a great rider not because of his new style but despite it! The mechanics to me suggest that the older style of race riding is more conducive to a better performance in a racehorse, but try telling that to our modern jocks who have known nothing else! After all, Lester reverted to the longer leathers when work riding. That should be a clue. What it will take to come back to the old style is a bug-boy that is winning his eyeballs out while riding not so much with longer leathers, but just crouching his ass closer to the saddle bucking the prevalent style--that my dear friends is not likely to happen. It is much more physically taxing to be elevated only inches from your running horse. However, let that maverick of style once again appear and win consistently then others will emulate in droves!
Let's go way back and discuss Tod Sloan's revolutionary seat that started this whole ball rolling in the first place in the late 1890s. How did he develop such an outlandish seat? Tod Sloan was afraid of horses from an early age and it took great discipline for him to overcome this fear. What's even more unusual is when he finally started working in a racing stable and tried his hand at galloping and race riding, he was a complete failure! Horses would run off with him and he could not win a race to save his soul the first few years. I guess this gives hope to all of our first attempts at skills we fail miserably at. He is an inspiration of what can be--if one persists, but back to how he started riding in the monkey-on-stick position.
He writes in his autobiography:
"As a matter of fact, I discovered the "monkey-on-the-stick seat " quite by accident at the Bay District Track. One day, when I and Hughie Penny, who was then a successful jockey, were galloping our horses to the post, my horse started to bolt, and in trying to pull him up I got up out of the saddle and on to his neck. Penny started laughing at the figure I cut, and I laughed louder than he, but I couldn't help noticing that, when I was doing that neck crouch, the horse's stride seemed to be freer, and that it was easier for me too. Before that I had seen a jockey, named Harry Griffin, riding with short stirrups and leaning over on the horse. As he was the best jockey of the day I put two and two together and thought there must be something in it, and I began to think it out, trying all sorts of experiments on horses at home. The " crouch seat," the "monkey mount," or the thousand and one other ways it has been described, was the result. Then the time came when I determined to put it into practice. But I couldn't screw up enough courage the first time I had a chance. I kept putting it off. At last, though, I did really spring it on them. Everybody laughed. They thought I had turned comedian. But I was too cocksure to be discouraged. I was certain that I was on the right track. I persevered, and at last I began to win races!In the whole of my experience I have found that a boy with a nervous temperament makes the best jockey. He is quick and alert to take in a situation, and he becomes a human ferret, finding out things for himself. The Tod Sloan of that day was a bundle of nerves, and he discovered new things every day. I will give you an instance. It was at the Ingleside track at San Francisco that I learned that a horse runs better when "pocketed." Of course it is rough on the nerves of a rider, but the horse breathes in a space where the air doesn't come to him in a rush, and all a rider has to do is to watch his chance and slip through when he thinks the time has come for the effort. He will find his mount fresher and quicker to put it all in. Another thing which I learned about the same time was that, however tired a horse may be in a race, and no matter how hard it may be for his rider to keep his position, yet the horse will take on new energy if he gets the chance to go through a gap between two other horses or between a horse and the rails. I have studied horses all my life since the time I have just spoken of, and I am quite sure that it's a kind of compelling instinct."
It is interesting for me to read that Tod Sloan found that a horse racing in a pocket, covered up, often is a much better racehorse than if he is on top or eating air on the far outside. Few of our modern jocks or trainers know this very valuable fact. You can often make a timid horse strong by keeping him in the middle of the herd, so to speak. Keep him covered up in the race until you make your move in the stretch! Sloan thought it was due to the air being easier to breath. I don't think so though one will experience less wind resistance covered up by horses. I think the herd instinct kicks in when a racehorse becomes a member of the herd and not up front or way to the side. It is a powerful psychological thing for them which reflects on their stamina.
Secondly, it is equally illuminating that Tod knew as modern rail riding jock, Calvin Borel, has often put in practice that a horse will gain new energy when he is allowed to split horses or split a horse and the rail. Calvin has used this secret for years.
It has always blown my mind how Thoroughbred trainers hate the one-hole at the post position draw. Bob Baffert was certainly not thrilled about his horse (2010 Derby entrant), Lookin At Lucky, having to start from that position! He writes: "Once you get in there, if you are shuffled back one time, then you'll get shuffled back a second, a third, a fourth as the race goes on. We're going to find out how good this horse is. If he's that good, he'll win it."
Unfortunately, his views seem to be in the majority when it comes to run'n horse people. They all seem to hate the one-hole and all inside positions near it. I just don't get it. If his horse does get shuffled back in such a situation that would be totally the fault of his jock or the horse's speed capability, not the one hole! You don't let horses ahead of you that are not contenders. If your horse has slow starting speed, it will not matter if he is in the one hole or the 6 hole. You will still have a horse shuffled back in theory to faster horses. If you don't want to be trapped down on the rail, then move to the outside. That is far easier than breaking from the outside and trying to get to the rail. Logical race strategy seems to have been lost in modern times. Eddie Arcaro in his The Art of Race Riding had this to say about getting away in a good position, controlling the race which harkens back to a time when jocks seem to understand race strategy! He writes: ". . . it's ideal to be on the speed horse and have the rail. Then, you can really do something to this field. You can slow it down and you'll have some of them really walking around that first turn. My thinking at every stage of every race is right to the point: make every other horse get the worst of it whenever I can. "
I come from a harness racing background and honed my trade in that form of racing till 1989. Harness horse people have always coveted the one hole at the start of a race. The closer to the rail, the better! It can offer so many possibilities which the thoroughbred contingent seems never to grasp. For starters, being on the inside, you can control the race as Eddie wrote above. Of course, this takes a horse with early speed, but if you have a horse that can leave well, the race is your oyster. No horse is going to pass you unless you want it to! Secondly, as all harness horse people know and seemingly few thoroughbred jocks, the shortest way around any race track is on the rail, but first, you got to get to that rail. Being in the one hole guarantees that important advantage! There is no chance you will be caught out wide around the turns like the outside horses, if you start out on the rail. Well, presuming you stay there! Many thoroughbred trainers seem to discount the advantage of how a horse next to the rail on the turns can save huge amounts of physical effort and track length. Calvin Borel may be the exception. As a jock, he has constantly employed the advantages of hugging the rail to bring long-shots home. Jocks seem to generally prefer to be on the outside, out of trouble and safe should something unforeseen happen. Few are comfortable down on the rail saving ground. Perhaps, rightly so, it can be a very dangerous place to be should a horse go down, yours or theirs. I suspect it is this bias by the jockeys that have flavored their trainer's views. Few trainers have any practical race riding experience. Most harness horse trainers have. Thoroughbred trainers only know what their jocks tell them and if you get a rider that hates the rail, as most do, you can imagine what feedback and excuses you are in store for.
Drafting is another aspect that few thoroughbred men appreciate. In order to draft, you need to have a horse in front of you. This is another advantage of the one hole. If you see the favorite challenging you on the outside, you can easily allow that horse to go to the top and be drafted by presumably the best horse. Not a small strategic advantage by any means!
As a thoroughbred trainer with a non-favorite, I have always told my rider to save as much ground as you can. I would much rather see my horse run a brave race, full of effort and heart but with no where to go than have him out on the outside, running his guts out and getting no where for his efforts. There is nothing that can ruin a chicken-hearted or inexperienced horse faster than this latter scenario and there is nothing that can bring a long-shot home more effectively than saving ground and drafting on the rail!
The legendary great Australian Jockey, Scobie Breasley , when he was 90 in 2005 gave an interview to the press and had this to say: "They don't seem to try to get on the inside," he said of today's jockeys. "They don't mind travelling wide, which would drive me up the wall. I said that was my spot (the rails). I used to take plenty of risks, but still . . . " From his first ride as a 14-year-old, Breasley regarded the rails as the shortest and, almost always, the only way home. "I never altered. I always wanted to draw No. 1 and if I didn't, I always wanted to get on the rails."
There was an old saying among American Jocks in the mid-20th century that went something like this: "Never go inside one horse or outside two." There was a lot of truth in that observation! The point was, never lose ground needlessly. The trip a jock gives his horse makes all the difference in the world, but the interpretation of that trip is often so erroneously perceived by them, trainers, and owners, that it is all quite laughable. The modern American jockey has little appreciation for saving ground on the rail nor the art of drafting. They may speak of it, but it is mostly just word service little heeded in the heat of a race. Below are some interesting statistics to consider before I discuss the trip more in detail.
A study that just came out from the Agence France-Presse, March 7, 2012:
'Drafting' horses more likely to win, place and show
Racehorses that stay in the pack longest before breaking for the final sprint have the best chance of earning prize money, scientists said on Wednesday.
By tucking in cleverly behind the leaders, the horse uses "aerodynamic drafting" to its advantage, they said. By coasting along behind the front horses, which are battling wind resistance, it saves energy for the final dash.
Jockeys, like long-distance runners and Formula One racing drivers, have always known about drafting, also called "covering up" in the race horse business.
But this is the first time its importance has been pin-pointed in data and measured, the paper's authors say. The work could one day develop into a tool for racing fans, they believe.
"When measured over the entire race, the average speed of a horse goes up the more time it spends tucked in behind other horses," Andrew Spence of the Structure and Motion Laboratory at Britain's Royal Veterinary College said.
"If you convert that difference in speed into how the horse finishes, it can amount to a gain of three to four places. You don't get any money unless you finish within the first five, so basically it's a big deal."
Spence and colleagues had access to a statistical gold mine: data garnered by a British company, Turf-Trax Racing, which places a radio-frequency chip in the horse's saddle, enabling the animal's position to be tri-angulated at any point in a race.
The team had access to more than 4,500 races staged at 10 British race-courses from 2005 to 2007. On average, horse races are decided in the last 500 metres, give or take 200 metres depending on whether the race is longer or shorter, the study said.
At this break point, the speed of competitors diverges as the horses muster the strength to the finishing line.
But contrary to popular perception, the final sprint sees a slowdown rather than an acceleration, for the horses are tiring. The horses that win, says the study, are those that slow down the least over the last stretch.
Conserving energy through drafting is what counts, according to the study.
By reducing aerodynamic drag by 13 per cent, a horse can notch an additional two-per-cent gain in the average speed for the whole race.
Two per cent may not sound like much, but it amounts to the difference between first place and fifth, according to the analysis.
"For a horse that drafts for 75 per cent of a race, this effect is worth three to four finish places," it said.
The study defined drafting as being when a horse was roughly one horse length (2.5 metres) behind a rival and was within 10 degrees of either side of its line of running.
Spence added a word of caution, saying that what the scientists had found was a statistical link. Drafting does indeed offer an advantage, but only if horse and rider use it properly.
"You have to be nicely tucked in, but tucked in a way that still leaves you with a shot at getting clear," he said. "You have to man-age not getting stuck in the pack."
Top French jockey Olivier Peslier, who has more than 1,000 wins to his credit, said he doubted whether the study would help experienced riders, who already knew of the benefits of drafting and had to use instincts at high speed in positioning the horse.
But Spence believes the work could one day lead to a useful tool for betters who want to analyze performance.
"Maybe you could come up with profiles of jockeys, and say, 'this jockey is really good at drafting," because some jockeys are really good at tucking their way in and threading their way through nicely."
We have all seen jocks that seem to get more out of a horse than any other rider for some unknown reason. A horse just seems to want to run and try for them. Why? Let's just don't push this out of our minds with the easy way out by assuming it is some unknowable magic that good jocks naturally possess. Hardly. I would like to quote from the British trainer, Fred Rickaby on that subject. He has some excellent insights. He writes:
"If we accept that a racehorse wishes to win, the best way to help him is to sit still and keep balanced. It is often said that some jockeys have a gift of getting horses to run for them. They have; and it is all tied up with balance. To be balanced, you must be able to "feel" the horse between your legs and move with him, not against him. It is this affinity between horse and rider which produces champion jockeys. I agree that it is a gift, but it can be developed if the apprentice has the initiative to learn and the necessary guts. To get balanced and stay balanced when pushing a the end of a race, you must not ride too short, and sit well forward. "
I think truer words have never been spoken. After all, think about it! It was Todd Sloan that first developed the monkey seat and it was all because he felt better balanced on his horse! It is all about balance and not hindering your racehorse! One can also go too far in the opposite direction by riding too short and too far forward. I might go on to add that a jock's hands are equally as important and also a function of his balance. The two often go hand-in-seat, so to speak. But back to the seat and balance. When I was training and schooling my youngsters out of the gate, I would always rise my rear out of the saddle before we were released in preparation for my horse's jump. I have studied many riders and have never seen anyone else do this here in the USA. I thought my instincts on that count were strange, not the norm in riding style, but I continued to do it any way. It felt right. Rickaby had this to say about leaving the starting gate and this has given me reason to feel vindicated that my instincts were in good order:
". . . . sit with a medium hold on the reins, preferably too long than too short, and try not to let your horse be caught flat-footed when the gates open. Now this is where the knack comes in. Have your heels back a bit to give yourself leverage, and at the first indication that the gate is going to be pulled, push both your hands up the horse's neck and by a twist of the wrist give him a slap down the shoulder. You will finish up lying on your animal's neck but never mind. By taking the pressure off the bit and moving your weight forward, you are helping your mount to stretch his neck and be smartly off the mark. All this happens so quickly that you are back in your natural position before you realize it. The main point to remember is to keep your bottom out of the saddle; your horse is trying to find his stride and any weight in the middle of his back will hinder him. "
It all boils down to balance and helping your horse work in the most efficient way with the jock aboard.
Jan. 2016 . . . . . . . A rather remarkable event happened to me this month. I was contacted by Jason Neff, who brought to my attention, a recently published book by his father, Myles Neff, titled: Stylin': Reviving the Lost Art of Race Riding. I consider this to be one of the most valuable Thoroughbred racing books I have read in years! Before that date, I thought I was the lone voice in the wilderness suggesting that we need to go back to the older style of jock's seat perfected in the mid-20th century as described previously on this page. Myles Neff through this book has provided a unique insight into that old style of riding which was called "stylin" by the boys that had to ride for a living back during that time frame. This style of race riding where the jock was pretty much on his belly against the horse from gate to finish was epitomized by such old time greats as Eddie Arcaro, George Woolf, Earl Sande, Jack Westrope and Neff's own teacher/mentor, George Martin. Myles was one of the last jocks to have utilized that style and it is seldom seen in these modern times. A photo of Myles Neff, "down on his belly" in the "skin of his horse" as he was often fond of saying can be seen to the right. Unfortunately, the sport lost this great man in 2011 to cancer, but his book lives on and can teach much to those open to learn and think.
One of the regrets of my life was that Jimmy Jones, the famed trainer of Calumet Farms and who lived not far from my family farm in northwest Missouri, died before I had a chance to pick his brain on old time training methods as practiced by he and his father, Ben. This is an all to common fate of great men with valuable knowledge. Their knowledge often dies with them! Myles has left a legacy for all of us who ride and train Thoroughbreds to contemplate. It allows us to reach beyond the current style of riding for that much coveted "edge" which only this style of aerodynamic and close contact seat can offer. Ignore it at your stable's own peril!
Myles Neff was a rather unlikely jockey! At 13 he was 5' 10" tall and weighed 130 pounds, yet he wanted to ride more than anything in the world! His brother, two years older, weighed 180 pounds! Everyone discouraged him from trying to ride professionally and for good reason! By the time he reached his 15th birthday, he had gotten his weight down to 112 and took out his license at the old Detroit Race Course. He persevered, eventually won a few but moreover showed his guts. Finally, his father gave in and asked an old friend and famed jockey, George Martin to take his son under his wing teaching him the riding style that George was renowned for. The rest is history as they say. I find it amazing that such a tall rider could so easily get down low and ride in this style! This is certainly a reflection on how this style can create a rider, no matter how tall which is efficient and a threat to shorter, lighter jocks. Technique is everything and balance is the key! It makes one think why the Brit jock, Lester Piggott (5" 8"), felt like he needed to ride so high as I describe earlier on this page!
The beauty of this original style of American racing was that the jock rode low from start-to-finish on his belly, often had his face in the mane, avoided unbalancing his mount by maintaining a perfectly still seat, and rode with hands that provided sensitive contact with his horse's mouth. It was a beautiful image of pure poetry in motion paired with an animal unhindered! In contrast, compare this image with what one sees today! Modern jocks ride high up in the air catching wind, ride with wide elbows often throwing the reins at their horse losing contact, wiggle around, and just generally hindering the balance of their mounts.
Yes, a low seat does put added strain on the rider. Its tiring on the legs. Many will say they ride high to save themselves and relax their horse. I say BS to that or they just don't know any better! They are athletes after all! There is no reason why they cannot strengthen their muscles to accommodate this lower style. As far as relaxing the horse, phooey! I dare say there is more strain on the horse high up then down low and as far as making the horse relax during the early portions of a race by riding higher, I simply don't buy it. Horses catch on pretty fast when the rider wants him to really try. As I mentioned previously, the Brit trainer, Fred Rickaby writes that the gifted rider is perfectly balanced on his horse, never out of rhythm. There is no better way to accomplish this than by using this old style of riding down and close.
Lets talk about wind resistance. If for no other reason, staying down low avoiding catching the air should be the number one reason to adopt this style. The speed of a race horse can be anywhere from around 35-40 mph and if you figure in a head wind, drag really gets complicated and serious fast! A race horse wins by being the one that uses the least energy to get from point A to point B. This economy of energy can be accomplished in many ways with air resistance being one of the more serious factors to consider in energy expenditure. Neff points out in his book that there is scientific research that shows that the lower riding jockey reduces drag by 31% as compared to a rider sitting higher up. Just plain common sense will tell you that! He also writes that bicycle racers which have speeds around 30 mph can gain a five foot advantage per mile per 1% decrease in air drag. M.I.T. researchers run a computer simulation program that calculated a rider riding down low achieved a drag force of 2.5 pounds lower than the same jock riding a bit higher. This would mean that a low ridden horse would experience a decrease in work load of 15% just from avoiding a higher seat by a less enlightened jock. Take a look at the below study that just came out from the Agence France-Presse (March 7, 2012) on the benefits of drafting in a race. Air resistance matters! Its insane that trainers and jockeys seem absolutely lackadaisical to the crimes that are being committed every day in races just from riders acting like parachutes!
What about balance? It doesn't take a genius to know that the lower the center of gravity, the more stable the object. The lower riding jock creates a lower center of gravity not only in himself, but in the combined moving object combination of horse plus rider. The higher the rider, the more easily he can interfere with the balance of the horse via simple leverage. The closer he is to the center of gravity of the horse, the more he becomes that horse and achieves as Neff likes to say: "getting into his skin", becoming one with the horse. Again, let me remind the reader that the truly gifted jockeys, the ones that get the most out of their mounts are the ones that are the most balanced on their horses, that disturb them the least, that let them run unhindered. George Woolf was the true example of this style and was called the "ice man" exactly because no one could tell what he was thinking by how still and balanced he was throughout a race.
A hidden dimension of balance in this seat is what Myles Neff calls: "purchase". Purchase is the position of one's feet in the irons (stirrups). Leg position generally is not thought too much about on the back-side other than how long one's stirrup leathers may be. The "acey deucy" style where the right (outside in USA) iron is shorter than the inside has been around on the racetrack for years. If you ask a jock about it, he will simply say that having this uneven stirrup configuration will allow him to take the turns more balanced. This is pretty much where the acey deucey reasoning stops. Myles Neff in his book has much more to say about Acey Deucy and it was certainly eye opening for me! He suggests that the acey deucey style is pretty much a necessity when one rides low in the old timey form and gives reasons and illustrations to back that up. Acey deucy allows the rider to widen his legs with the right foot behind the left foot, using it as a driving point to maintain his balance. Eddie Arcaro wrote in his The Art of Race Riding: "I find that the short right iron gives me the great pushing action. I have the feeling I can get right down and shove on the horse with my right foot behind me and my left foot forward to shove against. Thus, my right foot is my balancing pole." Myles Neff goes on to say that logically, this configuration doesn't really seem to make sense, but in practice, it does! I agree. I never could get my mind into the practicality of acey deucey, but Neff has changed that for me. Neff writes: "Establishing and maintaining the balance created by riding acey-deucy is the easiest and most efficient way for a racehorse and jockey to move together. It allows the rider to shift his balance and position to go with that of the horse and the horse's change of balance, whether it is small or large, gradual or quick. Acey deucy allows the rider to "fold into" the horse instead of squat over him. The rider should not be spreading his legs apart in order to get lower on the horse, nor perching on the horse's withers with his knees, but rather take advantage of the acey-deucy technique to fold himself as compactly as possible over the horse's back."
Lastly, I want to touch on how a racehorse is bitted and the jockey's hands in general. I grew up training and exhibiting show horses where bitting was extremely important to such an extent, it took on an almost magical emphasis when describing the talents of the very best show trainers and riders which had gifted hands. Being able to efficiently communicate with a show horse was a must to tell him how to best perform. Once I got to the race track, I was dismayed to observe that most riders had little appreciation for how Thoroughbreds are bitted. The loose rein is rampant every where and one cannot communicate with a horse on a loose rein! Morning exercise riders are just as guilty as the jockey's in the afternoon or night. Even to this day while watching the very best jocks and horse racing events on TV, I always notice how each rider "bit's" his horse, handle their reins at the walk in the post parade and once in the race. Invariably the loose rein is all that can be seen. Actually, how a rider bits a thoroughbred at the walk is really very telling. Everyone loose reins them. I never did. I always had a light contact with my horse's mouth and my hands moved with the rhythm of their bobbing head at the walk. I was talking to them at all times! Eddie Arcaro had an interesting observation on hands: ". . . remember that you've got to learn an awful lot about your horse in 10-15 minutes, from the time you first see him in the paddock until they load you into the starting gate. The jock with what we call good hands is the jock who--to get properly technical for a moment--can understand the feel of a horses's mouth and relate that sensitive touch both to knowledge of the horse's capabilities and to the tactics decided between the trainer and jockey before each race. In other words, if you get a proper feel of a horse's mouth on the way to the gate, you should have a pretty good line on the way he likes to run."
Myles Neff does fortunately discuss in detail the current style and problems of jockeys' hands. He despises the loose rein as much as I do and he writes how important it is to have a constant communication with the racehorse with a sensitive contact that can inspire. He also makes it clear that the close old time seat is the best seat to use in conjunction with good hands to get all one can out of his mount. Riding high with a loose rein is an abomination! The close seat provides a stable balanced rider that has stable sensitive hands!
So where did Thoroughbred horse racing go wrong and why have we come to this current sorry state of affairs? Perhaps it is the industry's departure from having jockeys under contract with stables while they were learning their trade? Back when that indentured system was prevalent in our sport, a young man was taken under the wing of a trainer and closely supervised from start-to-finish, tutored on the necessary skills of race riding, closely monitored. Not any more! Jocks are created with only the most sparse of riding experience rising up under no one master mentor. They are also more prone to see their peers as examples to emulate. With everyone on the track riding high and loose-reined, how do you expect them to know the right way to ride? We also received an influx of Latin American riders from the 1970s onward that brought into our jockey membership, riders with a different culture and background of riding style. Myles recounts in his book how he visited with Eddie Arcaro toward the end of his life at a Florida Expo event asking the great jockey if he thought it possible to teach young riders to again ride close as they did forsaking the modern style. Eddie said: "Not even with a gun to their heads!" He told Neff he had tried in the past to mentor young riders, but they were all resistant to changing their style. Whether it be peer pressure, laziness or ego, Arcaro had no luck and so goes life. No doubt, some day we will go back to the old style. Maybe it will take a hungry, innovative young rider, similar to a Todd Sloan of the late 1800s that sees the light on his/her own and wins everything in sight riding low & close, but it wont be soon or easy. If you are a young rider looking for an edge, consider going against the status quo, consider stylin'!
Below is a newsreel video of George Woolf riding Seabiscuit against War Admiral in their 1938 match race. Because this is a two horse race, one can more easily study the form of both riders. Notice how Woolf rides in this race, low and aerodynamic, a nice close hold on his mouth, face in mane throughout the event. Notice his feet position and how he is acey deucy with the outside left boot back against its iron.