Successful racehorse trainers have years of experience preparing horses for competition. Most trainers start out as assistants to other trainers and learn from their mentors. No doubt what some might call instinct comes from years of observation, learning and developmental experience. Recently, training horses has become more scientific and trainers will use equipment such as heart rate monitors to measure performance and perform blood work to check health and fitness levels. There are many other factors to consider, which we will discuss here.
Most racehorses are thoroughbreds, although there are separate races for Arabs. In the Thoroughbred world there are flat races and jumping races and horses are usually bred to compete in one or the other. Some horses bred for competition on the flat may progress to hurdles, which are smaller fences, but horses bred for success on the flat in national hunt competitions are rarely successful. Breeding also usually determines the best length of race for which a horse is suited. The trainer will know this and tailor the horse’s training to reflect whether they are going to run longer distances.
When deciding if a young horse is good enough to race, trainers look at how they perform in a gallop to see how they compare to other horses in terms of speed and stamina. Many never go as far as the race because they lack the talent.
Once the trainer has decided they are good enough to invest in, they will train them to improve their strength and fitness, but will also look at the horse’s mental desire and willingness to win. There must be some horses that want to be in front!
Strength and Fitness
If a horse has been trained to race, you can tell just by looking at it. A racehorse will have r large, muscular hindquarters, as this is the source of their explosive power and allows them to run at speed. You will notice that distance horses tend to be taller and leaner, while those bred for sprinting will have larger hind limb muscles for strength.
The trainer will also look at the recovery time of the horses when deciding if they are fit to race. Once they have reached a certain level of fitness then it is important to keep them in top condition until race day.
Feed and nutrition is a key factor when training a horse to be ready to race. A racehorse needs to be able to maintain a strict fitness regime so that it can build stamina, speed and power. The goal for race horses is to balance their health and performance as high energy feeds can have a negative impact on the digestive system. Feed should be at least 1.5% of the diet, although many trainers try to get away with less so they can put in a higher energy feed. A balanced diet is essential, as vitamins and minerals are part of energy metabolism and aid recovery. Oil is used as a concentrated source of energy, but as it can only be used when the horse is working at low intensities it cannot be the sole source of fuel. Therefore, grains that provide carbohydrates such as starch will be included in most racing rations to some extent.
All these factors contribute to producing horses fit for competition!