Careers With Animals: Exercise Rider

Exercise rider on a horse
Al Bello / Staff/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Exercise riders are individuals responsible for riding racehorses during workouts to keep the animals fit and race-ready. Exercise riders must be skilled at controlling horses of varying ages and racing experience levels. Riders must be in top physical shape and they must maintain appropriate riding weights—generally under 150 pounds. They must effectively communicate with trainers in order to understand and accomplish desired goals.

It is crucial for riders to develop a sense of the horse's running rate in order to meet the trainer's expectations for the distance a horse must cover in a given time. Riders must also detect and report a horse's injuries or lameness exhibited before or during workouts. Finally, riders must be comfortable with the risks associated with the job and fastidiously keep their safety equipment in good repair.

Career Options

Exercise riders can work at racetracks, training centers, and breaking-and-training farms. Positions are most abundant in major racing/training states like Kentucky, Florida, California, and New York. In Europe, these positions may be found in Newmarket, Chantilly, and other major racing centers, as well as the racing yards of international trainers.

While many exercise riders go on to become jockeys, former jockeys who can no longer make race weight conversely transition to exercise rider careers.

Some individuals couple exercise riding careers with other equine-related roles, such as a horse grooming or stable management.

Training & Licensing

As with most equine-industry industry positions, exercise riders generally work their way up from roles like hotwalkers and grooms. Community college training programs offer hands-on riding experience, furnishing students with completion certificates.

Exercise riders must be licensed to ride horses at a racetrack. New riders generally must hold provisional licenses for at least two months before applying for full licenses, which can be obtained by demonstrating horse-handling skills and track safely awareness. They also must pass a written exam.


According to a the website, as of December 1, 2018, the average exercise rider salary in the United States is $55,523, but the range typically falls between $46,140 and $68,591, depending on education, certifications, and additional skills. Riders may also operate on a freelance basis, earning around $15 per ride.

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 generous trainers who offer bonus structures that reward employees when the stable’s horses perform well.

When determining overall compensation, exercise riders should factor in the costs of safety equipment, personal health insurance policies, and traveling expenses.

Job Outlook

While the racing industry has recently struggled financially, talented exercise riders are always in demand, and those with a demonstrated work ethic should have no problem finding employment.