Jockeys Stance Shaves Seconds

19 July 2009

Interview with

Dr Andrew Spence, Royal Veterinary College

Chris - And also this week, there's a paper in the Journal Science that explains how jockeys have been able to shave up to 7% off their race times in the last 100 years and it turns out that it's all down to the way that jockeys sit in the saddle. They don't sit like that in that uncomfortable looking posture just for fun. There is some method to their madness and Dr. Andrew Spence form the Royal Veterinary College is here to tell us why. Hello, Andrew?

On 2007Andrew - Hi, there.

Chris - Welcome to the Naked Scientists. So, what did you do?

Andrew - Well, so it started with the sort of a group discussion about this paper in humans where people had found that when you put a backpack on humans, it's allowed to slide up and down, they use less energy and...

Chris - So you mean bounce up and down? I think that was a Nature paper few years ago, wasn't it? When the rucksack, when a person's taking a step, the rucksack bounces up and down on an elastic band and they use less energy under those circumstances.

Andrew - You got it. Yes, it's a nice paper by Professor Larry Rome at UPenn. Basically, we thought, maybe the crouch posture allows the jockey to do the same thing and physically, what happens is that the jockey's legs act like shock absorbers and it turns out that if you're a horse, it's much easier to just keep the jockey off the ground, but not have to jiggle them up and down with each step that you take.

Chris - I get it. So, if the jockey is sat both upright in the saddle like a guardsman at Buckingham Palace, changing the guard then the horse with every step would have to lift the jockey up and down, whereas if the jockey stands up in that strange and bizarre posture, the "Martini Glass" posture...

Andrew - Yes.

Chris - Then the horse isn't physically lifting the jockey up because the jockey is basically countering the movement of the horse by bending his legs up and down?

Andrew - You got it. That's exactly right and it's hard for a human to imagine what that feels like, but I think, the closest we could get is probably to these Nepalese porters who carried big jugs of waters on these bamboo poles that can flex up and down, you know? It's easier to carry something if you don't have to accelerate it up and down each time.

Chris - How did you actually do the work?

Andrew - Well, so that was interesting. There's this whole new class of sensors coming out and basically, they're the kind of thing that's in your Nintendo Wii controller. So, it's the same chip that's in the little controller that it allows you to play Wii tennis. It's a little chip that can measure when it's being accelerated. And so, we put those in the saddle and on the jockey and we took measurements and we compared them and we saw that yup, presto! The horse moves up down a lot; and the jockey moves up and down a lot less.

Chris - Can you take that learning and make differences or changes to jockey's technique to train them so they'll make their horses to go even faster?

Andrew - Well absolutely, I mean that's, so - we don't even know. I mean, this is the tip of the iceberg really. So what would be really, really cool to do right is to get Frankie out there, get Frankie Dettori out there and then put some gadgets on him and then make some measurements on novices. You know, some of these are collaborators of the British Racing School take these. You know, they're really interested. They're young kids. They're 14, 15-year-old boys and girls who want to be jockeys and we, you know go out there and measure them, and you could compare and see how close Frankie is to perfect and who knows? You know, we could really use it as a training tool.

Chris - Sounds terrific. Thank you very much, Andrew. That was Andrew Spence who's from the Royal Veterinary College, explaining how jockeys actually move their bodies effectively, doing some of the work for the horse. That means the horse has got more energy to put in, to running fast and in fact, since 1900 when they started to adopt that posture. They're going about 7% faster.

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