The fitness of a jockey is a complex balancing act of being fit enough to ride racehorses, and being light enough in weight to ride in races in the first place. This means that their fitness routines outside of riding horses are very unique compared to those of other professional athletes, and often an aspect of their job which is unseen by racing fans.
Chantal Sutherland is a well-known multiple graded stakes-winning jockey currently based out of Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla. A native of Canada, Sutherland’s professional jockey career began in 2000 at Woodbine Racetrack. She went on to become the first female jockey to win the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup in 2012 and she now has lifetime earnings of $55,838,263 and has won 1,160 races.
The two-time Sovereign Award winner went into detail about what overall fitness as a jockey means to her and how she personally maintains the balancing act.
Question: What does your weekly exercise routine look like?
Chantal Sutherland: “Outside of riding I do two types of yoga. I do normal zen-type yoga and also intense yoga. It’s like hot yoga, but it’s an intense workout where you’re being pushed and you’re not holding poses for a long time, but you’re doing intense-type poses. I also do boxing, but because I’m down to two days off a week, I don’t get to do as much as I was. It is not only good for your core and your athleticism, but it’s also good for your mind and your confidence. I eat extremely healthy, mostly a pescatarian type of diet, and lots of vitamins and supplements. I think it’s important for everyone, not just athletes.”
Q: Do you find that exercise plays a role in your mental health and fitness as well as your physical health and fitness?
C: “Yeah I think that your mental health is just as important as your physical health. It’s that mindset of calmness and our sport can be pretty tough, so you can get beat up and you just have to stick through the tough times and just be kind of mentally in tune to be able to prepare yourself for a race. I do my homework at night, sometimes up to two days before a race. I go over the race myself and watch the replays and talk to my trainer to kind of get a sense of what they want in a race. Sometimes they see the pace differently than I do and we talk about it and come to a good place. Communication I’ve found is so important and just being present for what they have to say. Also, I work a lot of horses. I work every day except for Monday, and I think it’s a huge advantage for me. I like to know my horse. I like to know what’s going on and be able to tell my trainers how they’re feeling and they can tell me how they’re feeling. Information is just so much power.”
Q: As mental health has become more talked about and there’s been less of a stigma behind it, have you found that correlates with better performance when it comes to riding races?
C: “Yes, for sure. I feel like people are more sensitive to the fact that mental health is so important and you need to take a time or day where you don’t do anything. We’re on the go a lot and it’s hard to take time for yourself, but it’s really important. I live alone and I like to be alone in the room and I’m so lucky and blessed to have the girls’ room where I can be alone. I just like to study there. I meditate there and I pray there. My relationship has taken a new level with God and myself. The more grateful you are, you feel better about yourself and the world. Being happy and treating others with respect does come back to you. I try to treat everyone on the backside with respect and love and I feel it come back to me in abundance.”
Q: Are there any types of exercise you have to avoid typically to make sure you don’t bulk up too much and have trouble maintaining riding weight?
C: “You want to balance everything with cardio and weight training. You don’t just want to do a ton of weight training because then you’re going to get too big, but you don’t want to do too much core because then you’re going to get skinny and you’re too weak so it’s a bit of both and racing horses is the combination.”
Q: What would you say the biggest fitness challenge is for a jockey and how do you tackle that?
C: “I think it’s that deep air in a race when you’re down and riding and you’re pulling and pushing on a 1,200 pound animal and they’re getting tired and you have to lift them and help them. I think for me boxing gets that deep cardio and that feeling on a stairclimber when you’re getting to that really fast anaerobic part. To be a jockey, you have to have really good air to the point where you almost feel like you’re throwing up. That’s what it feels like to be in a race.”
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