An Inside Look at how Elite Horses are Prepped for Successful Racing Careers

Most people watch the Kentucky Derby and wonder how these amazing horses reach their current level.  An abundance of time, effort and money are invested in training thoroughbred horses.  These horses are prepared for racing careers early in life.  However, horse training methods are distinct to each individual trainer and racing market.

Thoroughbred Horses Start Similarly

It is often said a race is worth having as long as the entrants start at the same point.  Indeed, thoroughbred racehorses start life in similar surroundings.  These widely coveted horses are either kept by their breeder owners such as Richard Schibell Racing, or auctioned off for top dollar.  In some cases, breeders and bloodstock agents connect to help buyers pinpoint the perfect horses.  It is also possible to purchase a racehorse by way of claiming races.  These events feature potential buyers who plunk down their money to assume ownership of elite horses.

Elite horses are bred and transported from one part of the globe to the next.  Each horse’s race training is dictated by the area in which it resides along with its owner’s nuances.  It is particularly interesting to note massive thoroughbred venues now exist everywhere from Japan to France, India, Peru, Argentina, Singapore and Hong Kong.  There are unique training methods in each region of the world.

The Early Days of Racehorse Training

Racehorses start training before regular horses as well as horses that participate in other riding disciplines.  For the most part, racehorses start training at two years old.  Some point to this early training as part of the cause of thoroughbreds’ particularly temperamental personalities.  Thoroughbreds are still developing their bodies as well as their minds when they are prematurely put into service.  The racehorse training process has the potential to push a budding star toward his full potential and also highlight horses that are not cut out to race.  In general, younger horses are favored by racehorse owners in the United States.  Older horses are raced at a higher frequency in Europe, Australia and other parts of the world.

Race Trainer Selection

Those who breed horses choose race trainers according to a number of important criteria.  The trainer’s current or prior relationships along with training methods, track record of success, level of attention provided to horses and access to racecourses all play a role.  Furthermore, pricing, relationships with jockeys and years of industry experience also shape the selection process.  Some trainers go as far as completing university programs to master the nuances of equine care.

Training Regimens

Horse training differs based on location.  Racehorses are treated similar to regular horses in the United Kingdom and Europe.  Horses in these countries are commonly stalled at trainer barns by racecourses and get a considerable turnout and herd time.  In comparison, racehorses in the United States are typically tabled at tracks and remain in the shedrow for a larger chunk of their lives.

Training regimens are quite different in the United Kingdom, United States and Australia.  Workouts that take place in the United States are usually comparably shorter.  These workouts are conducted at the racecourse itself as opposed to a public/jockey gallop.  There is also more of an emphasis on mastering sprinting so lengthy United States races are considered to be merely middle distance for those in Europe.  Furthermore, thoroughbred racing in the United States is restricted to flat racing.  Few races take place on grass as dirt tracks or tracks of the synthetic variety are available.

Critiques of the United States’ Training System

The high prevalence of thoroughbred bloodlines and comparably light training have created a situation in the United States that many consider to be potentially disastrous.  The United States has a disproportionately high percentage of fragile horses that end up with egregiously short racing careers.  Thankfully, there has been an uptick in interest in developing racehorses that are more reliable and sturdy.

Australian horses are trained more along the lines of the European racehorses.  However, there has been a strong focus on print races in the recent past.  Sprints comprise the majority of the under cards at events like the Caulfield Cup.  Australia’s breeding industry could eventually be affected by this trend.  It is interesting to note horses used at racecourses rarely receive the same intense training as horses in other disciplines.  Rather, horses at racecourses respond best to simple commands and are willing to reply with the basic trot/canter gaits.  Horses with more years of experience and horses located in the United Kingdom that participate in jumping races typically have a much broader base of skills.

As soon as horses are trained to accept the rider and are capable of accurately understanding and responding to basic requests, they will figure out how to break away from the starting gate.  This breakaway often proves to be one of the more challenging components of training.  Some trainers and breeds go as far as using miniature gates.  The horse is steered toward the gate and slowly taught to move to the chute and stay there as the rear door closes.  The horse is taught to rapidly respond to the opening of the gate at the race’s beginning.  Furthermore, horses are introduced to the buzzer or bell sound so they are not spooked when it sounds at the race.  Though there is always the potential for an accident to occur at the post with an especially nervous horse, those who train their horse properly minimize the chances of such an event.

Take the Broad View and Start Early Every Single Day

The best of the best zero in on training the horse to run well and schooling the animal in track activities.  Teaching the animal the track basics ultimately reduces anxiety and makes the competition that much more enjoyable for the horse.  Ask around and you will find some of the best racehorses train in the early morning hours.  This is the time of the day when horses are fresh.  The mornings are cool, calm and rife with opportunity.  Keep your eye on the prize at the end of this process, keep pushing and your horse will eventually realize his potential.

Richard Schibell has been involved with racing and breeding thoroughbred horses for over 35 years. Stay up with our content by following the blog at!