At most tracks a rider has just about 20 minutes from the time he leaves the jocks' room to the time the starter sends him out of the gate. In those 20 minutes he may have to learn all about a horse he might never have seen before, as well as analyze the field and plan some sort of strategy. The trainer and I will both, of course, have some ideas on the race before we meet in the saddling shed (left). From past-performance charts and our own observations we'll both know who are the real speed horses in the race. So we'd compare opinions on the speed horses. If I'd never ridden this horse before, the trainer would give me the word as to whether my horse was a front runner or one that wanted to lay back the first part of it. He'd also remind me of the horse's tendencies to bear out around turns or lug in. When we'd agreed on the caliber and number of speed horses we'd discuss ways of not getting in a trap among them and giving opportunities to horses coming up from behind. And even if we thought we could steal a quick lead and slow the pace, we'd still talk over the speed horses in the field. Any trainer will have definite ideas on the type of warmup he wants his horse to get, as well as the gate strategy to be used. For example, with a horse who has a habit of stumbling, the trainer will tell me not to let him sort of roll out of that gate without a hold on him. The trainer might also suggest that his horse needs help from an assistant starter in the gate, and in some cases he will finish up by giving you a warning, such as, "Eddie, if this horse tires, don't sit down and whip him up." This is advice I don't really need because I know from experience that whipping a tired horse doesn't help. He'll get loop-legged and limber and pull himself up, no matter what the jock does. As you settle into the saddle you must feel that you fit that horse. This will sometimes mean a readjustment in stirrup length to compensate for a saddle set on slightly off center. The result should be that you feel your legs are carrying all the burden and you now have perfect balance.
TALK WITH THE TRAINER
The good trainer should tip you off to some mannerisms which don't always show up in the charts, such as: keep him away from the rail; he wants to run free and clear; if you get him pocketed he'll start climbing.
IN THE PADDOCK
You tie a knot in the reins because they are too long and have no balance., Without a knot there would be no weight, and rather than hang down they'd be flopping all around. So first you square them off and pull them out even with the buckle on the end.
THE MASTER'S HANDS
A portrait of my hands under standard racing conditions shows how I control the horse with the half-cross in my left hand. My right hand holds the right rein with three fingers and the whip with one. To whip you can let go with the right hand and yet not lose control.
TYING THE KNOT
After the reins are squared you throw the end over the standing part and wrap it around a few times. The part you now hold in your left hand is called the half-cross, and in race riding you control the horse by holding the reins in either hand with a half-cross.
QUESTION OF WEIGHT
One of the most controversial questions in racing is that of the difference between live and dead weight. Live weight, of course, is the actual weight of the jockey—in my case it is about 111 pounds. Dead weight is the weight resulting from slabs of lead being slipped into the pockets of the lead pad (as is being done at left by my valet Whitey) so that the total weight carried by the horse reaches the amount specifically prescribed by the conditions of the race. Most people believe that a horse does his best with live weight on him. Well, I think a successful jock like Shoemaker—who weighs about 95 and therefore carries a lot of dead weight with him—has done a lot to disprove that theory. In view of the number of winners Shoe rides, dead weight can't be affecting his horses. Remember, when you have weight tied securely on a horse it's bound to be more stable than the weight of a jockey, who naturally has to shift his weight going into turns or when his horse bobbles. I don't think any rider in the world can keep his body as centrally balanced and still as dead weight tied down on a horse.
I prefer the three-pound leather saddle (opposite page) to the plastic one (above) because it feels better. I usually ride the same saddle (although I have about 20) all through the day's card. Some jocks use heavy, broad, leather-wrapped irons, but I always use a sliver of bare iron. The teeth in the crossbar grip the Neolite on the soles of my boots to prevent them from slipping around in the irons.
NEW SAFETY HELMET
It's awkward riding with the new Caliente helmet at first, but you get used to it once you're in action. It should be enforced everywhere, though, because of its life-saving value: rubber-lined interior and chin strap to tie it on. One boy had a horse step right on his head and it didn't even bust the helmet. The boy was all right, but they found the imprint of a hoof on his helmet.
THE RACE RIDING SEAT
As I pointed out last week, I believe the only answer to a good seat is sufficient leg strength so that your hands don't force you to balance on a horse's mouth. In these drawings notice how I try to keep my body in the middle of the horse and absolutely centrally located even though my right iron is about six inches shorter than the left. I definitely belong to the toes-in school; furthermore, I find that my right knee, already higher than the left, takes most of the pressure, although both knees are gripping very tightly.
THE IRONS—RIGHT AND LEFT VIEW
Keeping your toes in, as all top jocks know, prevents you from getting leg-locked while riding in close. Some other jocks are also now imitating my style of placing the boot in the iron: my iron comes across at a slight diagonal so that the inner corner of the stirrup is just on the rear curve of the inside of the ball of the foot. I think riding this way gives me a better sense of balance than if I rode, like some jocks, with the iron far back in the instep. Although in these similar drawings, taken from opposite sides, the iron length is different (for reasons fully explained on page 36), my legs are still giving me perfect balance so that while galloping to the post, as I am doing here, I am able to ride somewhat higher than usual (because it's more comfortable) and keep my hands low enough so that I'm not interfering with my horse's mouth.