A question that has been asked many times by many different people, are male jockeys or female jockeys better? The roots of this particular equine debate extend far into the previous century, and the fact that it is still being asked, and heavily researched today, should give you a hint as to the answer to the question; or lack thereof.
Biologically speaking, both male and female jockeys have their advantages. In theory, women are generally more lightweight, smaller framed, and shorter than men, and in practice, jockey-weight women outnumber jockey weight men 7 to 1 in a study by the American Sociological Association. The average height of a woman, 5’4”, falls perfectly into the desired height for jockeys - between 4’10” and 5’6”. But, the fact that horse-racing is a mixed sport shows the skill lies with the horse, and handling is the mastery of the jockey. Racehorses weigh literally half a ton and travel at up to 40mph, meaning natural strength and a certain, how do we put this…lack of self preservation fearlessness does work in favour of the male jockey, as it seems to for men in general.
With the Data That we Have, What is the Answer?
Research into US racing jockeys in particular, found that 14% of jockeys who were female had just 10% of starts between 1999 and 2016, and won 7% of all prize money. This could, of course, be interpreted that these female jockeys were inferior and took home less cash as a result. But don’t forget, this “could also occur because women tend to ride inferior horses in lower class races.” And we don’t seem to be going in the right direction - “All these percentages have declined by 2 to 3 points since 2000”, the ASA study concludes. Who knows how this data could change if female jockeys are afforded an unbiased selection and training process. A 14 year long study of jockeys across the sexes by the University of Liverpool found just that - when the quality, experience, and skill level of the mount was factored in, there was very little disparity between the jockey genders in terms of their basic skill.
Why are There So Few Female Jockeys?
By now it’s become pretty clear to any fan of the equestrian, or just about anyone with eyes, that there are very few female jockeys. In the U.K, only 11.3% of all jockey license holders are female, and 8% of all competing jockeys are women. “There are some trainers who point blank do not use women”, jockey Gemma Tutty stated in a BBC article in 2018 - 46% to be exact, according to Dr Vanessa Cashmore of the Women in Racing organisation. There is also a definite bias among punters for male jockeys, reported by the British Horseracing Authority, where men and women are equally stacked in terms of skill, the betting market tells a different story. Research into jockeys and those splashing the cash in their favour, has shown that male jockeys are favoured when laying bets.
To provide an answer to the, albeit somewhat subjective, question of whether male or female jockeys are better, jockey research will require a larger and sustained presence of female jockeys within professional horse-racing and competition. Without the availability of equal sample sizes to gather data to determine whether male or female jockeys are better based only on skill, we simply do not know. So good luck ladies, by the sounds of things, you need it. But for now, there is very little reason to believe that either male or female jockeys are better than the other.