by Eddie Arcaro

(Sports Illustrated   Part 5,  "The Finish"  July 15, 1957)


     Although is correct to say that every foot of the way is important to each race, it's a fact that nine times out of ten, the money is waiting for the horse and jock who gets the best job done from the 1/8th to the wire.  It is during these last 200 yards that I prefer to forget my whip and give my horse, instead the benefit of what we call the "hand ride".  Now, basically what a rider does in the hand ride is to tune himself completely with the motion and rhythm of his horse. Thus, when the horse is on his hind feet, you must be in position to shove with your hands.  And, as he pushes off on his jump, you go with him with your hands.


     I think you will see from three drawings on this page what I mean when I say that you must be "one" with your horse in the proper hand ride. First of all, on the top of this page, we see a horse coming off his hind feet into his jump or big stride.  As he makes his jump, I'm going forward with my hands, as seen to the right. Notice two things about my seat in this sequence: I'm well forward where I'm getting better leverage, and my short right iron is responsible for giving me the very strongest pushing action.


Naturally, you must push as hard as your power will permit you to.  The harder you push, the more you feel  you're urging your horse--and helping him.  On the right, you see the horse coming back from the jump, and consequently, my hands are also coming down. One aspect to the hand ride is that I notice that I get more power with my head down in an all-out drive. Of course, if you're driving in the middle of a pack you absolutely must (unlike this drawing) keep your head up to see where you're going.


     Even with your head buried in your horse's neck and mane as your posture becomes more streamlined, you should be capable of maintaining the proper hand ride without breaking the rhythm with you've established between you and the horse.  At the right, for example, I've already completed one full forward jump and my hands now come back to the neutral position after recoiling and we're about to start another in the strenuous series of push-and-thrust actions which make up the complete hand ride.


     Hand riding, of course, is riding with complete disregard of the whip.  The hand ride, properly executed, is really just an all-out concentration of pushing along the horse's neck.  There's only one way to hand-ride: get down and really shove at the thing.  When you do it right, it's everything your body can give.  You're straining every muscle in your body and the key to the whole business is that you must have that absolute relationship with the horse.  For instance, if  he's on his hind feet and I go forward before he takes off, then I'm riding faster than he's going--and we're not in motion together.  The logical result of this will be that I'll completely confuse the horse. And a confused hose--no matter how potentially good a runner  he may be--can't possibly give you his best effort. In fact, he's liable to quit on you.



     In hand riding with the great push and thrust going for you so that you feel "one" with your horse and he's running for you, you almost never hit him.  To let go and beak your rhythm to hit him is the worst thing you can do and it's also the one thing the horse least expects. There's no doubt in my mind that when horses get head-and-head, they really know it's a race.  And if they're any account, they'll give you all the run they have in them, so this would be the worst time to use a whip. Now to the final phase of our theoretical mile race, in which, at the close of last week's article, my # 2-horse was leaving the quarter pole ready to duel the #8-horse down the stretch. (Whereas my horse was previously on the rail--for the purpose of showing the right- to left-handed whip switch--above we take the liberty of moving him to the outside in order better to illustrate the proper hand ride.)


     To use maximum effort for any length of time is quite impossible.  If you have to hand-ride a horse in the middle of the backstretch (to put him to running), you're not going to have strength in reserve to get back down on your belly and push again the last 1/8th of a mile.   And if you get sloppy in a hand-ride, you'll only lose rhythm and it'll send you into a slump quicker than anything, I know of.


     With the horse, I've got to beat on the inside of me, I turn my head ever so slightly and look under my left arm (as pictured below) and I begin another forward thrust.  If I lifted my head now, I'd break the stream-lining effect of the proper hand-ride.  I can get much more power up through my back--and greater forward motion--when my head is kept down than if I threw my neck back when I wanted to see what was going on.


For myself, at least, I find that only on rare occasions will I want to combine the hand-ride and use of the whip.  Usually the need to combine the two styles of riding comes out of desperation--when you've just got to do something to get more out of your horse.  In the below drawing,  giving more of a side view, you can appreciate the great physical effort, the hunching and stream-lining of my body, the extra push from my right iron and the thrust with both hands.  However, here, from a hand-ride action, I can beak the right hand free of the rein, recoil my arm and get ready to whip right-handed.


     Similarly, if the circumstances of my position in the field make it necessary for me to go to the whip left-handed from the hand-ride, I'm not at a total loss as the below drawing shows.  The important point is that if you must go to the whip during a hand-ride, be sure not to lose one beat of the regular thrust-and-push rhythm.  It seems that my rhythm, in most cases such as I've described in these two examples is a natural one-two-three beat for me.  What I mean is that I'll stroke them there times with the whip (crack, crack, crack), then ride for three regular beats before going to the whip (one-two-three) in uninterrupted rhythm again.

     In our put-up race, I know it's going to be a desperately close thing these last few jumps. Here then, finally, is the all-out effort, the greatest push and the absolute complete maximum forward thrust. To increase this motion, to form an even lower and sleeker shape, I now sit right down, getting my body impossibly low in a painfully flattened and almost anatomically impossible shape.  For what?  For the one lunge which may get me to the wire first.  And the drawing you see below is probably the most perfect picture of hand-riding  to its fullest extent that I have ever seen.  Everything about it screams maximum effort and one finish like this can reduce me to a state of complete physical exhaustion--as though I'd run a 100-yard dash. (come down and see, sometime, how dead beat most jocks are when they unsaddle after a hard finish.) There is going to be some luck to any close finish like this one and if two horses are striding together at the wire, it may pretty well depend on which of the two carries his head high and which one carries it low or really stretched out.  In that case, the low one usually wins. But one of the things that has never been discovered about race riding is how to make a horse on the wire, stretch his neck out those few inches that can mean all the difference in the purse money.


     Of all the things, I have learned about race riding (and this includes all the major points we have taken up in the past 5 weeks, such as basic generalship, knowledge of your own horse and your opposition, gate procedure and styles of  both right- and left-handed  whipping) I'm still  more  conscious of one thing than anything else:  you've got to do everything humanly possible to get across that line fist.  I prefer to credit the secret of my success to my competitive instinct.  I can promise you that if I don't have a nose or a head-lead six jumps from the wire, I'll scream like a Comanche and hope the jock along side of me gets scared and draws his whip or makes some mistake which will let me catch him.  Doing something completely unorthodox might do the trick--even if you do it unintentionally.  I remember one finish at Santa Anita:  I switched whips six times between the 16th pole and the wire. In the final jump, I lost the reins completely and went across the line all-out with no reins! When the kids in the jocks' room saw the photo, they really razzed me.  Did I care?  Hell no!  The important thing--reins or no reins--was that I won. And to me, after 25 years, that's the most important thing about the whole art of race riding.