Careers With Animals: Exercise Rider

Belmont Stakes 2014 - Previews
••• Al Bello / Staff/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

An exercise rider is responsible for riding racehorses in workouts according to the instructions of the trainer.


The primary duty of an exercise rider is to ride racehorses during their workouts. Exercise riders must have the skill to be able to control horses of varying ages and levels of racing experience. They must be physically fit and maintain an appropriate riding weight (generally under 150 pounds).

Exercise riders must also be able to communicate effectively with the trainer so that they can understand and accomplish the goals of the workout. It is particularly important that the rider can sense the rate at which a horse is traveling, as trainers often ask a rider to go a certain distance in a specific amount of time. Riders must also be careful to notify the trainer if they detect any injuries or lameness before or during the workout.

An exercise rider can ride 6 to 8 horses per day on average. The workday usually begins around five in the morning and ends around noon, with most riders working six days a week. Riders must be familiar with the usual risks of working with horses and keep their safety equipment in good repair.

Career Options

Exercise riders may find work at racetracks, training centers, or breaking and training farms. Most exercise rider positions are found in the major racing and training states such as Kentucky, Florida, California, and New York. In Europe, positions may be found near Newmarket, Chantilly, or other major racing centers, and the racing yards of International trainers.

Some aspiring jockeys first gain experience by working as exercise riders. Former jockeys that can no longer make race weight may later transition into a career as an exercise rider.

Some individuals choose to combine their exercise riding career with another equine related role, such as working as a groom or in stable management. They exercise horses in the morning and attend to their other duties after the riding work is completed.

Training & Licensing

As with most positions in the horse industry, exercise riders generally work their way up from positions such as hotwalker and groom. Riders will benefit from having prior experience riding and competing in other disciplines.

There are a number of training programs offered at community colleges which offer hands-on riding experience leading to a certificate of completion. Programs are available in many countries including Canada, the United States, and Ireland.

Exercise riders must be licensed to ride horses at a racetrack. Generally, a new rider must hold a provisional license for at least two months before applying for a full license. To obtain a full license, a rider must demonstrate to the stewards, outriders, and starter that they have the skills to handle a horse on the track safely. They also must pass a written exam.

Exercise riders do not necessarily need to hold a license to ride at many farms and training centers, though a license does enhance the rider’s marketability.


According to a 2011 salary survey by Equistaff, billed as the largest online equine employment site, full-time exercise riders earn an average salary of $27,153. In general, exercise riders can expect to earn between $500 and $700 per week, depending on the region in which they work and their level of expertise.

Riders may operate on a freelance basis, earning around $15 per ride, or they may be kept on salary by a trainer or training center. In some cases, riders may receive free housing as a part of their compensation package at training centers or tracks.

Riders may also benefit from the generosity of a trainer who uses a bonus structure to reward employees when the stable’s horses perform well. Trainers often pay out a percentage of their share of purse earnings to the stable’s staff. In a successful stable, bonuses can be significant.

When determining overall compensation, an exercise rider should also factor in the routine expenses of the business. These expenses may include the purchase of safety equipment such as helmets and vests, obtaining a personal health insurance policy, and traveling between tracks and training centers.

Job Outlook

While the racing industry has struggled a bit financially in recent years, talented exercise riders are always in demand. A good rider with a solid work ethic should have no problem finding horses to gallop, especially if they are willing to relocate to an area where there is a steady demand for regular riding services.