Jockeys must starve themselves to make riding weights as low as 110 pounds. Competition for mounts is fierce and horses that carry lighter weights are speedier.
The minimum weight in most jurisdictions is 116 lbs. Riding clothes and saddle weigh about 3 pounds. Jockeys commonly have three types of saddle, one lightweight for making a lower weight limit, one medium for everyday use, and a large saddle for heavier weights.
Anorexia and bulimia are common occupational hazards. Many racetracks have "heaving bowls" installed in bathroom stalls for those jockeys who must purge to make weight.
Many jockeys spend 2-4 hours in 140 degree hot boxes to sweat off that last pound or two. Others take laxatives or diuretics in order to be lighter. Car heaters are turned up to full blast, and jockeys jog in wetsuits to make weight, while in agony from thirst.
Jockeys adhere to strict diets and often subsist on a piece of toast and a few cups of tea throughout the day. Laffit Pincay , a champion jockey, made one peanut last a whole plane trip across the country.
These practices take a terrible toll on their bodies. Bulimia can cause an irregular heartbeat, dehydration, depletion of potassium, dizziness, tooth enamel erosion, and low pulse and blood pressure.
Abusing laxatives upsets your electrolyte balance and can deplete minerals like sodium and potassium. Taking laxatives removes water from the colon, so the scale might register a lighter weight. However, as soon as you start drinking liquids again, the ounces or pounds you lost return. Refusal to drink liquids can lead to dehydration and can lead to heart failure, fainting spells, and even death. The colon becomes used to the stimulation of laxatives, and functions sluggishly on its own.
The Jockey's Guild is lobbying to increase the minimum weight to 118 lbs, but is meeting resistance from trainers, and even other jockeys. Hall of fame trainer D.Wayne Lucas is one such opponent. "If you put more weight on horses, you'll have problems. Modern diets are great. Tell jockeys to get on one. If they're too big to make weight, they should do something else."
Retired jockey Pat Day is naturally small at 4'11" and 100 pounds. He too thinks that weight limits should not be raised. He claims that raising weights would cause "overweight", would be riders to try to cut weight and end up with their own health issues.
What effect does carrying more weight have on the horse? Dr. Steven Wickler, professor of Animal and Veterinary science at California Polytechnic Pomona, estimates that each 5 lb increase in weight would increase force on a horse's limbs by 0.5 percent.
While the great debate rages, jockeys continue to abuse their bodies in their quest to be thin enough to ride.