Scientists have proved that jockeys are justified in adopting their uncomfortable race riding postures - because it makes their horses go 7% faster!
A brevium in this week's Science by Thilo Pfau and his colleagues at the Royal Veterinary College in London examines how the so-called "martini-glass" riding position used by top jockeys over the last 100 years makes mechanical race sense.
The team used GPS data and intertial sensors to track the movements made by rider and mount. They found that the horse's body moves up and down over a distance of 15cm over the course of its stride. If the jockey were to remain firmly fixed in the seat the horse would have to lift the rider's weight over this distance with every stride, significantly increasing workload and slowing the horse down.
Instead, by using the traditional racing posture, the jockey's legs behave like elastic bands, which enables the rider to rise and fall by about 6cm during the horse's stride. The result is that the animal carries the rider's weight but without having to repeatedly lift and lower him or her through each stride cycle. Instead this work is done by the jockey's legs.
Intriguingly the team have also found that jockeys tend to overcompensate in their movements, helping the horse along! So, contrary to popular belief, the modern posture is more about mechanics than air-resistance, although it does also result in a small saving (of about 2%) there too!