In the world of horse-racing, the horses understandably get all the attention but much of the thrill of today’s races depends on the jockeys. Their modern riding posture – the so-called Martini glass – has led to a dramatic improvement in race times, by making things much easier on their horses.
Modern horse-racing has been going on for over two centuries, but in its earliest days, jockeys would ride vertically. The modern, crouched style was only developed in the late 19th century in the US. By 1897, it has been adopted in the UK and by 1910, it was a global phenomenon. The new posture clearly had benefits for the horses for in the few decades after its introduction, race times improved by 5-7%, more than they did in the subsequent century.
You might think that crouching down speeds up races simply by reducing drag on the horse, but not so. Jockeys may be bent over but they still sit fairly high on their mounts, much higher than, say, a track cyclist does on theirs. This high posture means that from the front, the total area of horse and rider doesn’t change very much between the upright and modern riding styles. Less than 2% of the total work done by the horse’s muscles is spent on overcoming this extra drag.
Instead, Thilo Pfau at London’s Royal Veterinary College has found that the uncomfortable stance greatly reduces the burden on the horse by uncoupling its movements from those of its rider.