A Look at What Life is Like for the Average Racehorse

Racehorses have surprisingly busy lives.  These animals are busy even before the point in time at which they arrive at the trainer’s yard.  You read that right!  Horses are incredibly busy in the first couple years of their life, especially if they are pegged as candidates for racing.

The First Month of the Horse’s Life

Some foals have already moved with their dam to an appointment with a selected stallion as soon as the first month of their life.  It is fascinating to consider the fact that certain foals have witnessed more in their brief lives than some older horses have seen in entire lifetimes.

There is the potential to sell thoroughbred horses as foals.  In other cases, these horses are sold as yearlings.  In some situations, horses are sold at two years of age.  The sale of two-year-old horses often occurs at what has been dubbed as Breeze Up sales.  In some cases, the breeder sends the horse directly to the trainer without entering the sale ring.

The Process of Breaking in the Horse

Horses are typically broken in around the age of a year and a half.  By this point in time, horses are used to being handled and having a bit in the mouth.  At this age, horses are comfortable donning rugs and passing through examinations performed by various people.  The manner in which the horse is broken in hinges on the unique trainer’s nuanced preferences.  Certain horses are broken in with conventional methods.  As an example, some trainers rely on long reining to break in horses.  Once the horse passes through this stage, it is time for it to accept the presence of a rider above.

As soon as the backing stage is over and done with, the horse is ridden away.  This is the point at which the horse is taught to venture out with other horses.  In most cases, an experienced older horse will lead the pack.  The young horses might be taught how to canter in groups by others so the features of each particular horse can be identified.  Horses are also tasked with trotting figure eights and riding away from others.  As soon as horses pass through this portion of training, they should be provided with a few weeks of quiet time to relax.  This period also presents an opportunity to learn how to gallop.  At this stage, horses are typically ridden in long stirrups with walk, canter and trot being performed in a different direction each day to ensure the animal’s muscles develop in full.

As soon as the horse reaches an acceptable fitness level, it might be time to visit main gallops.  These gallops rise in a gradual manner to enhance muscle strength as well as the horses’ cardio performance.  The horses will likely hack with a canter and slowly boost their speed until they can perform sharp work.  Such work requires jumping off and subsequently breezing several furlongs.  The point of this exercise is to teach the horse to jump and run.  Jumping and running is fundamental to horse racing so the earlier the animal learns the basics the better.

The work described above is commonly performed with another horse nearby.  This approach teaches the horses that they should race one another yet it also helps teach them to settle and pay attention to the jockey instead of galloping wantonly without any concern for pace control.  Once the horses are near the point at which they are ready to run, they will be taught to enter and jump from the stalls.

General Rules for Riding

Racehorses are typically ridden in a distinct manner that is different from that used with the typical riding horse.  Minimal time is reserved for schooling the animal after the initial break-in period is completed.  The focus shifts to speed and fitness work at this point.  For the most part, racehorses hack to gallops on loose reins with minimal rider interference.  Racehorses tend to move out in a string and follow the horse in the front of the pack.

When transitioning to gallops, the rider will lean forward just a bit, lightly contact the horse’s mouth, stand in the stirrups and the horse will subsequently move off in canter.  It is up to the rider to bridge the reins to ensure a firm hold that guarantees the horse can lean against his or her hand.  If the rider alters his or her grip on the reins, the horse will consider it an indication that it should move faster.  Therefore, it is not advisable to change hands or shorten your grip on the reins unless you desire to ride faster.

What Life is Like for a Horse in a Racing Yard

Racehorses live quite the luxurious lives.  These animals eat tasty food, are properly cared for and receive prompt attention for all medical issues.  The average racehorse’s daily activities at the racing yard are typically centered on adherence to a strict routine that begins at dawn and extends until dusk.  The vast majority of racing yards have an individual designated to look after racehorses.  This individual eventually learns the horses’ idiosyncrasies to the point that he or she can pick up on their habits and tendencies and respond appropriately.

The average racehorse starts the day around five in the morning with a feeding.  Mucking out and riding occur between six in the morning and Noon.  Horses are typically exercised for an hour or so during this period of the morning.  The trainer oversees several strings of horses each day.  The second feeding occurs around Noon.  The early afternoon hours are commonly used a quiet period of time in which the yard shuts down.  Horses are given time to rest, the work crew eats lunch and things are allowed to settle down.

The late afternoon and early evening hours are reserved for stables when horses are skipped out, have their hair cut and are checked for injuries.  In some situations, horses will head out for some grass or proceed to the horse walker.   The late evening hours involve a late night check and present the opportunity for another feed.

Racehorses’ weekly exercise routine during the peak of the season is typically comprised of fast gallop sessions at least two times each week.  Steady trotting along with cantering are performed during the remainder of the week.  Sunday is often reserved as a rest day.  Horses in jumping yards might undertake schooling over jumps upwards of a couple times per week.

The Importance of Feeding

Feeding is an essential component of a racehorse’s training regimen.  The majority of racehorses are provided with three feedings per day at a bare minimum.  In some cases, horses are provided with four or more feeds.  Racehorses are limited to a specially formulated racing diet to ensure optimal performance.  The feed is rife with protein, fiber, starch, vitamins and minerals.

Off to the Races

Horses are usually fed about an hour prior to traveling on the big day.  Try to arrive at the course about three hours before the start of the race.  This early arrival provides your horse with an opportunity to relax in the setting where he will race.  This is also an excellent opportunity to give your horse some water and high-fiber feed.  Food and water should be eliminated from view at least a full hour prior to the race when the horse is removed from the stables and shifted to the designated ring to be saddled in the saddling boxes.  The horse is then walked to the primary parade ring where it is surrounded by throngs of people.  Hopefully, the horse remains calm and reaches the start safely.  It is assumed the horse will be able to walk around the front area of the stalls as the girths are checked.  As soon as the load up commences, the horses walk to the back portion of the stalls and load in a pre-established order.  This is a sensitive period of time so try to keep your horse as calm as possible.

Once the race ends, the winner is sent to the dope box where a urine sample will likely be taken to determine if any prohibited substances are in the horse’s system.  The horse is then washed and walked until dry.  The animal is provided with ample time to settle down prior to the drive home.  The horse is trotted up the next day to be examined for soundness.  As long as you do your part to maximize your horse’s potential, there is a good chance the animal will have a successful racing career.  Focus on the details as outlined in this piece and you will be well on your way to raising an amazing animal.

Breeding, raising and training thoroughbred racehorses is something that Richard Schibell has been doing for the better part of 30 years. While it is extremely difficult and taxing, it can be overwhelmingly rewarding. Richard Schibell Racing has had the privilege of breeding and racing dozens of high profile horses and will continue to do so throughout the country!