The monkey crouch is something that many horse racing fans take for granted today. After all, we’ve always seen jockeys ride their horses this way – feet in the stirrups and squatting high up. But did you know that prior to 1897, jockeys rode their horses with their legs dangling down the sides?

Yep, it was not till 1897, when a jockey named Todd Sloan came to the United Kingdom that the monkey crouch was born. Sloan was from the United States and when he rode his horse in that position, the Brits were quick to dub the awkward position as the “monkey crouch.” As awkward as it might have seemed back then, the monkey crouch was to prove effective. In fact, jockeys who used Sloan’s technique were able to improve their race times by 6% – a huge figure in the world of racing.

So why is the monkey crouch effective? Researchers at the Structure and Motion lab at the University of London’s Royal Veterinary College conducted studies regarding the energy efficiency of the monkey crouch. Science Now gives us the dish:

Even as horse and rider move forward, they also bob up and down with each stride. The researchers found that whereas a horse averaged a vertical change of 150 millimeters in each stride, the rider’s vertical displacement was only about 60 millimeters. Jockeys “don’t follow the movement of the horse but stay relatively stationary,” says co-author Alan Wilson. By, in effect, floating above his mount, the jockey saves the energy the horse would otherwise expend to shove him back up after each bounce down into the saddle.

In other words, the position transfers the work to the jockey (who uses his legs as pistons or springs) and frees up more energy for the horse to go faster. Neat, huh?

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