Successful thoroughbred horse racing requires not only a talented horse but an equally talented rider, or jockey. The way a jockey positions himself atop a horse has a great effect on how well a horse can perform in a race.
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Jockeys used to sit upright on their mounts during races. This changed when jockey James "Tod" Sloan began riding crouched higher up on horses' shoulders and necks in 1898, much to the curiosity of other riders and spectators. The style soon caught on.
Jockeys currently ride in a style similar to Sloan's --- raised in short stirrups and crouched forward, limiting or removing contact from a horse's back during a race.
According to the Royal Veterinary College, a running horse accelerates and decelerates during each stride cycle, causing for a less than smooth ride.
The old style of race riding, in which a jockey sat upright on the horse's back, was inefficient because of the relatively stiff posture of the rider and limited ability to move with the horse. The modern, crouched method, in which the jockey crouches above the back and shoulders, allows the jockey to fluidly move with each stride. The result is less work for the horse and faster times.
Thilo Pfau, an expert in animal biomechanics at the Royal Veterinary College in London, speculates jockeys in the crouched position might be able to drive their horses faster than otherwise capable while running on their own.
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