In virtually every racing jurisdiction around the world-with one rather notable exception, the United States-aspiring jockeys are required to complete a formal training program before being allowed to become professional race riders. After Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron retired in 2002, he set out to establish such a program in the United States.
The result was the North American Racing Academy, located at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky., which opened in 2006.
"A school for training jockeys is desperately needed in the U.S.," McCarron said upon the academy's opening. "We see so many riders come here from other countries where they are required to attend and graduate from a training program only to compete very successfully here in the States. I am firmly convinced their success can be directly attributed to their education and training."
Since opening as strictly a training school for jockeys, the North American Racing Academy has since expanded to include educational programs for virtually every aspect of the Thoroughbred racing and breeding business. Students can learn the vocations of Thoroughbred groom, barn foreman, trainer, racing official, track maintenance, and racetrack management among others. The programs consist of four semesters and take two years to complete.
According to the NARA Web site, students in the jockey program spend three hours a day gaining hands-on experience at the barn and three additional hours in the classroom. Each prospective jockey is is required to feed, exercise and groom two horses a day. The three-hour hands on portion also consists of one hour riding on the track and one hour on a mechanical horse.
The classroom curriculum focuses on a wide array of topics. First-semester courses include introductions to equine studies, racehorse care and equine physiology among others. The second semester include introductory courses to commercial breeding practices and overall racing operations. Later semesters include such classes as identifying lameness in a horse, racing stable operations and advanced racehorse riding principles.
Financial assistance for NARA is available through Bluegrass Community and Technical College, which helps administer the program. Graduates of the program are awarded an Associate Degree in Equine Science.
According to NARA, graduates of the school's jockey program have already competed in more than 11,000 races and accumulated purse earnings of more than $16 million. The school also said more than 80 percent of NARA graduates have been successfully placed in internships or full-time positions as jockeys, exercise riders, or racing stable and breeding farm employees.
"Horsemen have said loudly that they are in constant need of well-trained and willing workers," said NARA Executive Director Remi Bellocq. "There currently exists, industry-wide, a heavy reliance on foreign labor, which has become unreliable given the lack of immigration reform in recent years. As such, they come to us for the locally sourced equine industry workforce we can help provide."
NARA will hold two pre-admission orientations this spring for those interested in joining the program. Further information can be found on the NARA Web site.
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