Horse Racing Careers

a jockey sitting on a horse on race day
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There are a variety of career options for those wanting to work in the horse racing industry. Here are some of the most popular options for careers at the racetrack:

Racehorse Trainer

Racehorse trainers supervise the care and training of the horses in their racing stable. They work with veterinarians, farriers, exercise rider, and jockeys to provide comprehensive equine care and maximize each horse’s performance. While no specific education is required, most trainers work as assistants before striking out on their own. Trainers must obtain a professional license in each state where they plan to race a horse. In terms of compensation, trainers charge a “day rate” for each horse’s basic care plus 10 percent of purse money won. Income can vary widely based on the stable’s number of horses in training as well as the level of success that the stable has at the races.


A jockey rides racehorses in competition and must meet stringent weight requirements to be eligible to compete (most jockeys weigh in at 100 to 115 pounds). They may ride in as many as 8 or 9 races per day, and some jockeys also ride horses in their morning workouts to become familiar with their individual quirks and racing styles. Jockeys must first obtain an apprentice license and win the required number of races before advancing to a journeyman jockey’s license. Jockeys earn a fee for each mount plus a percentage of their mount’s earnings. Earnings can vary widely based on the frequency that a jockey can win races and the number of horses they ride each day.

Jockey Agent

A jockey agent lines up mounts for the jockey that they represent. Their job involves talking to trainers to book mounts, evaluating races to determine the most viable prospects, keeping a log of riding engagements, and performing administrative tasks such as making travel arrangements. Jockey agents must be licensed in the states where their jockeys compete. They receive about 25 percent of the jockey’s earnings as compensation, so agents representing top riders will earn top dollar.

Exercise Rider

Exercise riders ride racehorses during morning workouts. They can maintain a higher weight than jockeys but still must generally tip the scales at 150 pounds or less. A license is required to ride at the racetrack. Work begins before dawn and usually ends before noon. Exercise riders are compensated for each horse that they ride daily, and they may ride 6 to 8 horses each morning. Many riders maintain a second part-time job occupy their afternoon hours.

Track Veterinarian

Track veterinarians administer a variety of medications, check horses for fitness to compete on race day, and take post-race samples to be tested for banned and illegal medications. They also treat injured horses and perform a variety of exams at the request of owners and trainers. A license is required to work at the track. Equine veterinarians must make a significant commitment of time and money to earn their DVM degree, but they can earn a salary of $85,000 or more each year.


A farrier is concerned with maintaining the health of the equine foot. They perform routine trims, shape and apply shoes, and consult on lamenesses or other soundness issues. Farriers may achieve professional certification from a variety of associations and training schools, or they may choose to learn through an apprenticeship with a master farrier. In 2011, the average compensation for farriers was $92,600; with the frequency of shoeing on the track, racehorse farriers can earn even higher salaries.


Grooms provide day-to-day care for the horses assigned to them by the trainer. Routine duties include bandaging legs, mucking out stalls, grooming, and saddling. Grooms also watch their horses carefully for signs of injury or illness. Six day work weeks are common for grooms, and a license is required to work at the track. Compensation for grooms usually ranges from $8 to $15 per hour, and they often receive bonuses when one of their charges wins a race.

Bloodstock Agent

Bloodstock agents represent buyers and sellers of racehorses, provide professional appraisals of value, and purchase horses at auction on behalf of clients. There is no educational requirement or licensing of bloodstock agents, but they must have an excellent knowledge of pedigrees and a good eye for evaluating equine conformation. Most agents earn 5 percent commission on sales that they broker and some agents earn a fee for being kept “on retainer” to provide regular advice to clients. Top agents can easily earn six-figure salaries.