How to Properly Bath and Groom Yearlings

“Yearlings require the proper nutrition, exercise, bathing and grooming” says 30 year breeding veteran Richard Schibell.  Fail in any of these areas and your yearling won’t meet its potential, especially in the context of the all-important sales ring.  Though a lovely coat is nowhere near as important as physical features and pedigree, a glossy shine that appeals to the eye really does make a powerful impression.  A yearling featuring a well-groomed coat will stand out from the rest of the crowd and generate plenty of attention.

Yearlings and Exposure to Light

Yearlings spend the majority of the day in barns so they are not exposed directly to the harsh sunlight.  This light has the potential to damage yearlings’ coats and diminish physical aesthetics.  Appearance is just about everything on sale day.  Horses are typically turned out in the evening hours around the time the sun is setting and subsequently brought in at sunrise.  This scheduling provides yearlings with enough time to venture out and about, grazing without compromising coat quality.

Proper Yearling Grooming

The majority of yearlings are groomed for about 45 minutes per day.  Grooming is centered on the removal of excessive hair that requires extensive brushing performed with a specialized curry comb.  This is an opportunity to teach yearlings ground manners that set the foundation for subsequent success across posterity.  Yearlings have the opportunity to learn patience as they are forced to stand for an extended period of time for tail grooming, feet picking and the treatment of scrapes.

Individualized attention is provided to certain yearlings’ manes.  The left side is particularly important as it is the side prospective buyers see.  Manes should fall to the right to permit the buyer to view the animal’s neck without visual interference.  Yearlings that have cowlicks or middle portions will require braids or bands so the mane remains on the proper side.  Yearlings are cleaned each day when exiting the walker yet they are not fully bathed more than once per week.  This bathing limit helps the coat retain its shine.  The animal’s mane is pulled and its ears are tended to ahead of the sale.

The Sale

The yearling remains barefoot all the way up until the week prior to the sale.  Once on the sale grounds, the animal is closely tended to to please potential buyers ready to perform their analysis.  All of the work detailed above pays considerable dividends once the hammer drops and the yearling heads off to a new home.

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

A Look at how Horses Enter the Starting Gates

Horses should not be restricted to small spaces.  These animals are naturally drawn to open spaces.  Every racehorse has to learn how to be comfortable in the starting gate, regardless of how cramped it is.  Most states require racehorses to complete official workouts.  Some such workouts must commence from the starting gate.  The logic in this requirement is the horse is allowed to load up and break away without impediment.  A weak start hinders the horse’s individual chances to win, show or place and also make it difficult for the rest of the field.

The gate crew ultimately gauges whether the horse if officially ready to race.  In some cases, certain horses require a minimum of three extra workouts.  The gate crew is comprised of a group of 10 horsemen who help with training and loading prior to the race.  The gate crew also determines each horse’s progress and provides gate cards to those that fulfill all portions of the approval process.

Horse Encouragement

The best riders provide encouragement to the horse as it enters the starting gate.  Once the horse is provided with a gate card, entry is granted to the race.  However, horses that prove disruptive at the start of the race can lose their gate card and be put on the Starter’s List.  Those placed on this list are not allowed to race until the gate crew re-schools them and provides the gate card.  It is possible to add special padding to the stalls for horses that have had prior issues.  This padding makes it possible for the horse to settle down without risking injury.

Horses that require an equipment change such as the addition or removal of blinkers will have to be re-approved.  As soon as the re-approval process is complete, the crew provides a card with the equipment change along with the date of the horse’s last work.  Meticulous records are maintained on all horses for the easy identification and handling of new and problem entries.

The gate workers are comprised of starters along with assistant starters.  Assistant starters are tabbed for reach individual horse on race days.  The assistant starter must enter the starting gates with the horse and jockey to ensure everything is secure.  The horse’s feet are subsequently planted.  The animal’s head is directed straight ahead as the gates open.  Once the horses are loaded, the starter waits for a moment of calm then lets the field loose.

The Inherent Risks of Working With Horses

Those who work with horses should be aware of the inherent danger.  Horses are gigantic animals, weighing between 800 and several thousand pounds.  The gate crew has to be hyper-aware of their proximity to the horse along with the horse’s temperament.  These workers don flak jackets along with a helmet on race days to guard against significant injury.  Additional precautions are taken when dealing with horses with gate problems.

An array of techniques are available to load especially challenging horses.  Assistant starters sometimes interlock arms behind the animal, move the arms down to the hindquarters and guide it to the starting stall.  This approach requires positioning gate starters at the animal’s hip to prevent injury from kicking.  Some horses benefit from being led in with the front gate open.  Others have to be blindfolded or blanketed.

The gate crew is sometimes responsible for moving the gates out of the way after the race has begun.  Crew members pull the gate away from traffic immediately after horses are off and running.  This is clearly one of the most dangerous jobs on the track yet it is also one of the more important positions.  A solid gate crew ultimately guarantees the well-being of horses as well as those riding them.

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The True Cost of Raising a Competitive Racehorse

When it comes to competitive horseracing, spending $30,000 or more is commonplace.  Horses sold for tens of thousands of dollars have the potential to be flipped for several million dollars.  Take a look at the winners of the latest Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, both of which Richard Schibell has attended multiple times, and other top races and you will find the majority of these elite animals sold for eye-opening figures.  Though spending these massive sums of money are certainly a gamble, winning horses have the potential to mutlipy the initial investment tenfold or more.

A Numbers Game

Though luck is certainly a factor in horse racing, money is what matters most.  Some owners invest hundreds of thousands of dollars each year purchasing and training these world class animals with the hope of developing a profitable winner.  There is always the chance for horses sold at comparably low to moderate prices to succeed yet the ongoing costs make this quest quite the uphill battle.

The cost of training at a halfway decent racetrack is typically between $30,000 and $45,000 or more per year.  Add in an array of other expenses ranging from racing fees to veterinarian bills and the money adds up quickly.  Spreading out costs across the entirety of a group is one of the best ways to decrease costs.  Some owners join syndicates to reduce risk, minimize expenses and share with others.  However, those who take the solo route have to be properly prepared to make a lengthy and substantial financial commitment.  Let’s take a look at the costs associated with raising a competitive racehorse.


The average trainer charges per diem, creating the potential for a hefty final bill.  Training rates dip down as low as $70 or so per day at comparably small tracks.  However, when this cost is extrapolated across a month, it adds to more than $2,000.  Large tracks have the potential to cost more than $100 each day or nearly $4,000 per month.

Certain race tracks are all-inclusive.  This means the costs of transporting the horse, boarding, training and maintenance are included in the flat rate.  Do not commit to a trainer until you know the specifics of the training costs including the payment structure.


Every racehorse must be registered prior to entering the race.  Registration fees are usually in the range of $30 or so to several hundred dollars.  Licensing fees differ by state.  Entry into a high stakes race is costly, typically starting with what is known as the nomination fee.  This fee is put toward the prize money awarded to the winners.  As an example, the nomination fee for entry into the T riple Crown ranges from $600 to several hundred thousand dollars.  Those who are late to the game pay more than those who meet the nomination deadline.

Veterinarian Costs

Your veterinarian is an essential member of your horseracing crew.  Unfortunately, vet fees can add up quickly.  Some horse owners pay a couple hundred dollars a month in vet bills while others shell out upwards of $700.

Starting/Entry Fees

Horse owners are responsible for starting and entry fees.  These fees are tacked onto the purse money doled out to the victors.  This year’s Triple Crown races have starting and entry fees between $10,000 and $25,000.


Horses need the proper footwear just like sprinters and long distance runners.  A top-notch farrier is essential.  Farriers provide consistent maintenance to the hooves.  Plan on spending between $80 and $100+ every month or so for hoof trimming and shoeing.  Horses that need specialized treatment for excessively damaged hooves will cost even more.


It is no secret horses cost a pretty penny.  If you buy a racehorse, you need insurance.  The most popular type of insurance is known as full mortality.  This insurance provides the horse owner with a payout that equals the horse’s value on the market even in the event that the animal has to be put down or is killed.  Insurance plans typically run between 5% of the horse’s cost for a single year of coverage.  Therefore, a racehorse owner that owns a $50,000 will have to pay around $2,500 each year for insurance.

There is also the matter of additional insurance options.  Additional insurance is available to protect against natural disasters such as lightning, fire and auto accidents.  Certain states mandate racehorse  owners take out workers’ compensation insurance for jockey costs causally related to their workplace activities.

Jockey Fees

After the racehorse owner covers the costs to nominate his horse, enter and start in the race, there is still one more cost to cover: the mount fee must be paid.  This is the money paid to the jockey for each race.  Mount fees have the potential to be inexpensive yet they are increased for competitive races.  As an example, the mount fee for this year’s Kentucky Derby is $500.

The Cost of Buying the Horse

The average cost for a horse around the age of two sold at auction exceeds that of most luxury sport utility vehicles.  Two-year-old horses typically cost around $60,000.  Weanlings are comparably difficult to evaluate as they are merely a couple months old or a year old at most.  Weanlings usually sell for around $40,000.  One-year-old yearlings sell for an average of nearly $55,000.

Truly competitive horserace owners will go to the extent of enlisting the assistance of a bloodstock agent.  This individual serves as a talent scout, charging around 5% of the purchase price.  A trip to the vet is also necessary to evaluate the horse with a thorough analysis of the animal’s blood samples and x-rays.  The transaction is completed after the vet gives the horse a clean bill of health.

For over 35 years Richard Schibell has been involved in thoroughbred horses and professional racing. Learn more by following the blog at or on Richard’s youtube channel!

The Importance of Record Keeping and how It Affects the Bottom Line

Take a moment to consider how you keep your farm records.  Whether you use your memory, yellow sticky notes or a formal journal, your farm records should be detailed and orderly.  Keeping a paper record provides important insight into the specific mares that are reproducing better than the rest.  This is quite the important means of highlighting the mares that make the best impact on your bottom line. Want to know how Richard Schibell Racing does it? Keep reading below!

Documenting, Tracking and Safely Storing Data

Breeding sheds are typicality the area where record-keeping is most important.  Everything from insemination to anticipated foaling dates, prior breeding information and ultrasounds must be documented, tracked and stored.  The aim of breeding farms is to generate high-quality live foals.  Several important factors can be plucked from these breeding records to determine whether the goal was attained.  As an example, consider the pregnancy rate.  This is the number of of young bred on any given day compared to the number of mares that are pregnant on that day.

Foaling rates are another example of a key metric commonly used by horse breeders.  This rate is the percentage of breedings that generate a live foal.  This rate is generated through a comparison of the number of mares that have been bred to the number of living foals.  This rate is commonly used to analyze the overall efficiency rate.

Breeding Records and the Role of Stallions

Breeding records offer important insight that helps breeders make informed decisions.  For example, this information can help when deciding which mares are ideal for breeding and when mares are most likely to conceive.  The data from the mare’s prior breeding season really will help prepare for the breeding and empower the manager to forecast upcoming breeding as accurately as possible.  It also helps to gauge the stallion’s average production of semen across the entirety of the breeding seasons.  This information will make it easier to gauge the anticipated level of semen produced and the number of mare bookings that will result.  If the semen quantity or quality changes unexpectedly, it is an indication the stallion has a health issue.

If you have any questions regarding proper record keeping techniques, feel free to contact us. You can also follow Richard Schibell directly on twitter or LinkedIn to stay up to date. Don’t forget to keep checking for new articles on the Richard Schibell Racing blog!


A Look at the Many Different Types of Horseraces

Spring isn’t too far away.  This is the time of the year to start thinking about your young horses debuting with their first starts at the track.  Most people know about races like the Breeders’ Cup Classic yet few understand how horses qualify to compete in such races.  The North American flat racing system establishes classes that determine which horses qualify to start in particular races.  There are four primary race categories.  Each race category is subdivided with with conditions ranging from prior performance to age, etc.

Claiming Races

Most of the horseraces in the United States are claiming races.  In this type of race,e each horse can be purchased for an established price.  Claiming prices sometimes go as low as $10,000 yet sometimes exceed $80,000.  The higher the claiming price, the more prize money is awarded.  Prospective buyers are required to place their claim prior to the start of the race.  These buyers own the horse following the race no matter where it finishes.  Horses are connected with grooms following the race.  The racetrack official attaches a tag to the claimed horse.  Funds are transferred by way of the horseman’s bookkeeper at the track.  The sale is completed.  The trainer that represents the buying owner brings the horse to the barn to settle down following the race.

Horse owners will find it interesting to learn horses can be entered into all Claiming races as long as the horse is in compliance with the nuanced conditions.  If the horse competes against inferior competition for a better chance at winning the prize money, the horse can be claimed for significantly less than the actual value.  Optional claiming races are a combination of the claiming race and allowance race.  If horses complete all of the allowance conditions such as winning too many races yet is not a factor in stakes races, entry is not permitted to the optional claiming race.  However, the horse must run for the listed price.

Stakes Races

Stakes races are considered the highest level of competition.  These races are made up of Listed Stakes and Graded Stakes.  Graded Stakes are competitions labeled Grade 3, Grade 2 and Grade 1.  Listed Stakes competitions are a notch below Grade 3.  More than 100 Grade I stakes races will be completed in the United States this year alone.

Aside from sex and age. Stakes races do not have restrictions on horses. An annual meeting is conducted to gauge the quality of the forementioned races.  This TOBA Graded Stakes Committee review culminates in either an upgrading or downgrading of each race each year.  Stakes races must meet the exact criteria of International Cataloging Standards as thoroughbred sales are now worldwide in scope.

Black Type

In order for a horse to be considered black type, the stakes races has to be in compliance with the specific requirements of the International Cataloging Standards.  Black type is a reference to the typeface the pedigree uses.  It permits buyers to gauge the pedigree’s quality in full confidence.

Allowance Race Weight

Allowances races are characterized by the allowances provided for a narrow list of conditions.  Conditions range from earnings to the length of time since the horse’s last win, the number of horses the race has won and so on.  When there is a Starter Allowance, the runners must have competed in a claiming race at an exact price.  Horses in Allowance races are assigned weight in accordance with whether they adhere to the criteria.  Some horses end up with less weight as there is a comparably light jockey.  The weight allowance is meant to even out the field of competition, providing for a much more intriguing race.

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How to Keep Your Pregnant Mare Comfortable Amidst Seasonal and Lighting Changes

Those who are familiar with horses sometimes describe mares as being polyestrous explains owner Richard D. Schibell.  These animals often go through several heat cycles each year.  However, the reproductive tracts of mares rarely cycle in the autumn and winter.  The body chemistry of mares instinctually determines it is a bad idea to enter such a state.  The mare’s temperature naturally decreases as the days shorten in the fall and winter months.  Mares need about 16 hours of daylight along with eight hours of darkness to continue their reproductive functionality.  Provide your mare with the proper environment and you will have done your part to prevent a premature estrous.

Supplemental Lighting for Mares

In some situations, it makes sense to use supplemental lighting for a mare.  Though using artificial lighting is not a new technique, it is worth mentioning as it is quite effective.  Lighting really will kick-start the mare’s cycle through manipulating her body into believing the winter months are ending and the spring is right around the corner.  The mare’s retina registers the supplemental light, communicating to the body that it should suppress the production of melatonin, spurring an impact on several hormones and causing the follicle to be stimulated and subsequently developed. The use of artificial light to stimulate the mare’s cycle is especially helpful in preserving time if you seek an early foal.  This strategy is also effective in response to pre-breeding.

If you decide to use supplemental lighting for your mare, be sure to apply it as early as possible within reason.  The mare should be beneath the light starting in the final weeks of November or the first couple weeks of December.  This timing provides the mare with between a month and three months of photo-stimulation that triggers the start of the initial estrous cycle.  Just be sure to set up the lighting in a manner that guarantees your mare can see it.  Supplemental lighting will not be effective if it fails to register with the horse’s eyes.  So do not give your mare the opportunity to linger in the shadows, hang her head out into a barn aisle or find another way to avoid the light.  You will enjoy optimal results with the use of a timer to ensure consistency.

Common Supplemental Lighting Mistakes Horse Owners Make

Plenty of horse owners make the mistake of using dim lights.  Mares should be exposed to lights that are around 100 watts or more in power.  Provide your mare with a minimum of 100 watts and you won’t have to worry about whether photo-stimulation occurs.  Above all, do not forget to turn the lights on and leave them on.  Do not miss a single night.  Missing one or several lighting sessions makes it difficult for the mare to properly respond and alter to the seasonal change you are artificially creating.

If you notice any indications of heat from the lights, turn them off.  Continue to introduce daylight in place of the supplemental light as time moves forward and your mare will continue to progress.  Though there are certainly plenty of mistakes to make with supplemental lighting, those who put forth an honest effort will enjoy meaningful results.

Be Careful With Supplemental Lights

Though pregnant mares can be put beneath supplemental lights to spur a fast post-foaling cycle, there is always the chance of early foaling.  If the pregnant mare is foaling early in the year, consider putting her beneath the lights.  Using lights is especially  helpful if you intend to breed the horse back not too long after her pregnancy.  If you were to let nature take its course, it might take several months or longer for the mare’s body to regulate to its normal heat cycle.  However, if your mare has a reputation of foaling before anticipated, be especially cautious with supplemental lighting.

It will also help to track the mare’s cycles with regular ultrasound scans.  These scans will give you an idea as to how quickly progression is taking place.  If your mare is not progressing as quickly as expected, do not panic.  Certain horses are more responsive to lighting and other stimuli than others.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your mare during these seasonal changes feel free to contact us. You can also follow Richard Schibell directly on twitter or LinkedIn to stay up to date. Don’t forget to keep checking for new articles on the Richard Schibell Racing blog!

The top Considerations as Gestation Completes

Most people are surprised to learn the majority of foal growth takes place in the last couple months of mare gestation.  Though it is difficult to picture in the mind’s eye, it really does take more than 200 days of gestation for a foal to reach the size of a small dog.  The mare is under considerable pressure during the final months of gestation as the foal grows.  Let’s take a look at the top considerations when caring for pregnant mares as observed by Richard Schibell of Richard Schibell Racing team.

Re-evaluate the Mare’s Nutritional Intake

The mare should enjoy a diet of nutritional foods across the entire period of gestation.  The final couple months of gestation are especially important.  This period of fast growth causes the foal to require that many more nutrients.  If the mare is undernourished or does not received a balanced nutritional intake, she won’t have the nutrients her foal needs to grow and be healthy.  The mare must also have adequate milk production to boot.  Make sure your foal is eating high-quality forage.  Consider increasing the grain intake to guarantee your mare is receiving adequate amounts of vitamin A, phosphorus, protein and other essential nutrients and minerals.

The bottom line is your mare must maintain her weight across gestation to support proper fetal growth.  The mare must be able to lactate and maintain adequate energy levels.  When in doubt, turn to feed companies’ maternity rations specially designed to suit the needs of pregnant horses.  It also makes sense for breeders to consider the merits of pasture forage as certain grasses have the potential to become infected with a fungus that leads to problems with an overly-thick placenta, stillborn or weak foals and insufficient milk production.  Remove your mare from such grasses at least there months before foaling.  Ensure your mare is in the ideal body condition so she is capable of holding a steady weight across the entirety of the pregnancy.  If your horse is overweight or underweight, there is the potential for the foal’s development to be compromised or for the milk supply to decrease following foaling.

Decrease Exercise

Reducing your mare’s exercise does not mean the horse should be left in the stall to rest.  Every mare, regardless of whether she is pregnant or not, requires considerable movement.  The mare should be mobile throughout the majority of the pregnancy.  Do not give into temptation to hop onto your pregnant mare and take a ride.  Take it easy on her during the pregnancy.  Keep in mind the additional weight gain in the final months of pregnancy will stress her body that much more.

Keep the Vaccinations Up-to-date

Meet with the vet to establish a vaccination schedule.  This meeting should take place immediately after you find out the mare is in foal.  Setting this schedule early in the process is prudent as there will be a plethora of things for you to do in the coming weeks and months.  Aside from the Pneumabort vaccine provided at months 5, 7 and 9 to guard against the equine herpes virus, the mare should also be dewormed with regularity.  Abide by a consistent deworming schedule and you will minimize the chance of the foal being exposed to harmful parasites.  The final treatment should occur when there is about a month to go prior to the end of gestation.  Just be sure to take a close look at each product’s label to ensure the dewormer is safe for pregnant horses.

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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!

A Look at What Goes Into Training a Horse for the Kentucky Derby

Seeing a thoroughbred gallop across a racetrack is quite the invigorating sight – a sight that Richard D. Schibell has loved seeing for over 35 years.  One can only imagine what it is like to own a horse that races in the Kentucky Derby, often dubbed the most exciting two minutes in all of sports.  Even if you do not have millions of dollars to spend on thoroughbred horses, you can still raise a horse that is competitive with the elite bloodlines.

Training a Horse for the Derby

It all starts with a dream.  The process of preparing a horse to compete in the Kentucky Derby is a true challenge yet those daring to dream are the only ones who stand a chance to make it happen.  Most of the horses racing in the Kentucky Derby are young.  A ton of work is jam-packed into a couple years preparing the horse to race on the biggest stage of them all.

A horse is permitted to race in the Kentucky Derby if considered to be three years of age.  This means the horse must have had a single year or possibly less, of racing.  The question is how to prepare a horse to hang with the best of the best in the ultimate race of them all.  Preparing a thoroughbred for this type of pressure and distance is not easy.

The Basics of Raising a Legitimate Race Horse

The initial step in training a legitimate race horse is getting them familiar with being handled by a jockey/owner and being tacked up.  The filly or colt will have to become used to the saddle’s weight, the feel of the girth tightening, the bit in the mouth and the rider being atop.  The horse will also have to practice working on the process of loading into the race start gate, remaining still while the gate shuts and rapidly breaking into stride.

The challenges detailed above are easy to talk about and difficult to master.  Training your horse to complete each of these steps will prove difficult.  Do your best to understand your horse’s unique personality and you will find training proves that much easier.  Continue to study your horse during the maturation process to gauge mannerisms and tendencies so you can respond appropriately across posterity.

Progressing From the Second Year to the Third Year

As soon as your horse reaches the second or third year, it is time to hit the track.  Trainers typically find they get the best out of their colts between the early morning hours of 6 and 10.  The horse should be brought out to the track every single day for gallops or routine jogs.  The trainer will ultimately dictate the total distance the horse runs each day.  Furthermore, the trainer will be responsible for managing the horse’s speed during training sessions.  The upcoming race dictates the level of work and the speed at which the rider keeps his horse.  As an example, the Kentucky Derby is 1.25 miles in length so a horse trainer considering entering such a race will have to keep his colt up to this distance during training sessions.

Some training sessions will bring the horse right on up to a rapid gallop to gauge speed and athletic ability.  This type of session is referred to as a breeze or work.  Such workouts are eligible for timing by the track’s clocker.  These workouts can be published in track programs as well as industry documents so prospective buyers and those interested in wagering on horses can gauge performance prior to actual races.

Consider the Environment

Horse racing is about more than timing and conditioning.  Horses must be exposed to racing environments including cramped starting gates and areas in which other horses are closely positioned.  Horses will inevitably bump against one another during races and before and after races.  Consider training some of your horses alongside one another so they understand what it is like to be surrounded by other horses on a racetrack.

Richard Schibell Racing and owner Richard Schibell have had the honor of racing in two separate Kentucky Derby’s. First in 2012 and then again in 2013, the team took the trip down with Let’s Go Stables and their thoroughbreds El Padrino and Verrazano.

The Optimal Training Program for a Two-year-old Horse

The price you pay for a foal is representative of the animal’s pedigree and potential.  However, it is not only the horse’s pedigree that matters.  The time, effort and money you invest in training your foal also matter a great deal say Richard Schibell of Richard Schibell Racing.  If you give it your all and remain patient, you will enjoy a significant competitive advantage over the competition at the track.

Getting the Most out of Your Two-year-old Horse

Plan properly, put in the necessary effort and you will have quite the capable racehorse on your hands.  The challenge is in training your horse without causing an injury.  Unfortunately, nearly three-quarters of all conventionally trained two-year-old horses end up with some type of repetitive loading injury along the shins.  This type of injury really does limit the horse’s soundness and subsequently, the animal’s potential earnings.  In fact, some old fashioned trainers used to intentionally buck horse shins just to get the process out of the way at the outset of the animal’s racing career.  The horse was then provided with a considerable amount of time to rest before resuming training.  Though plenty of horses survived this process and emerged without issues, a considerable portion (about 12 percent) endure fractures at some point down the line.

Standard breeds do not buck shins as they train and compete in the same gait, pace, trot, etc.  However, thoroughbreds have shin issues as they commonly train at varied paces, many that are significantly slower than the pace of a competitive race.  These animals develop what those in the industry refer to as gallop bone as opposed to breeze bone.  Once breezes begin, problems arise.  When the horse gallops at a pace less than 2:45, the cannon bone can strike the ground at just the right angle and new bone will quickly form as a counteractive force.  If breeze speeds of 13 seconds per furlong or higher are reached, it is possible for the cannon bone to strike the ground at a 90-degree angle, causing highly dense bone to form along the front and inner portions of the cannon bones that ultimately empowers the animal to endure the physicality of competitive racing.

Altering the Rate of Bucked Shins

The study noted above consisted of four groups.  The first was comprised of those subjected to traditional training along a regular dirt track.  The second group involved traditional training along a surface comprised of wood chips.  The third group was the control group that was turned out to pasture.  The fourth group was the modified training group.  It is interesting to note the horse in the first group buckled its shins.  The horse in group two had less emerging bone than the horse in group one.  The cannon bone in group three’s horse proved round for the most part.  The horse in group four had comparably thick and dense bone along the front and interior portion of the shin.

The academics responsible for this study proceeded to test their findings on an even wider scale with more than 200 two-year-old horses.  These animals were studied from across nearly half a dozen unique stables for the next 11 years.  One of the stables that had frequent breezes and applied modified training decreased the chances of bucked shins by nearly 99 percent.  The horses in stables one and four were subjected to traditional training.  These horses had the highest frequency of bucked shins.  It was determined weekly breezing boosted the odds of bucked shins by more than 36 percent.

However, even if the horse did not buck, the overarching development was still compromised by the inability to generate bone that will prove reliable in a highly competitive race.  Tendon strength must be in place when the horse is quite young.  Once the stage is set for ideal bone growth in these young animals, the style of training must optimize their muscles, tendons, etc.

The Difference Between Classical and Modified Training

Classic training is dubbed as such as it is traditional training composed of several miles of lengthy yet slow gallops meant to leg up the two-year-old for a successful racing career at the track.  The majority of gallops no longer increase once the two-mile mark is reached.  Paces are maintained in the range of 18 to 20 seconds per furlong.  This equates to around 2:30 per mile.  Breezes are provided at a frequency of once per week or so and typically range between 1-4F in length with speeds about 13 seconds per furlong.

Modified training, also known as scientific training, is inspired by a number of venerable academics who have completed extensive testing of two-year-olds across several decades.  Horse gallops are usually shorter from a mile to the mile and a quarter mark.  Speedwork is introduced at an earlier point.  The gallop culminates in speed work two times per week, beginning with 1 F / 15 seconds and 3F in 40 seconds three months later.

Modified Training for Two-year-olds

The Maryland Fair Hill Training Center is home to Dr. John Fisher.  This horse expert has been perfecting the protocol for modified two-year-old horse training for several years.  Fisher has his own stable of horses.  Horses are broken to ride in the autumn at a young age.  These youngsters can gallop a single mile at a pace of 18 to 20 seconds per furlong by the start of the winter of their first year.  Fisher insists young horses’ bones must endure the strains required of competitive racing as quickly as possible.  This easily exposure give bones the opportunity to start remodeling in the best way possible.  Though this practice has the potential to affect the rest of the equine body, the risk is worth it.

In general, it is ideal for thick bone development to occur along the cannon bones.  These bones should be shaped similar to ellipticals as opposed to circles.  Thick bones are desirable so the horse can endure the stress of racing without pain or injury.  If the horse gallops along at a pace of 18 seconds per furlong or slower, the animal’s bone will be exposed to considerable shearing.  This tension during breezes results in compression forces that spur bone growth that is perfect for competitive racing.  The moral of this story is that additional speed is not always better.  Gradually load the young horse’s bones with exercises related to racing and the bones of a two-year-old will prove just as strong as those of a more mature four-year-old.

Dr. Fisher’s modified training protocol stages are as follows: the initial stage requires the completion of two gallops along with a culminating furlong in :15 across five weeks.  The second stage mandates two gallops with final 2F across :30 in five weeks.  Stage three extends the horse’s gallops to one and a quarter miles two times per week.  It is particularly interesting to note that speed is maintained as a constant while distance is increasing.  As speed heightens, distance moves back on off.  This is an example of how altering variables in exercises results in beneficial adaptations.  In this situation, the variable of distance is reduced while the variable of speed is heightened.

It is important to note horses who have passed through this nuanced training program have not shown any increase in injury rate.  The training program develops young horses’ bodies as well as their minds.  However, it is important that the rider prove patient throught the entirety of the training program.  If the rider remains calm and collected, there won’t be any chance for nervousness to be transmitted to the horse.  It is especially important for the animals walk to the barn at a comfortable pace.  Walking is a fantastic exercise that does not hinder bone modeling in the slightest.

Legitimate Science Backs the Results Detailed Above

The masterminds behind the study detailed above found across the past two decades a gallop has shown to build a distinct type of bone while breezes are responsible for the building of another type of bone.  The breeze bone is essential for safe racing.  Progressive overload is central to exercise physiology, regardless of whether the subject in question is a horse, person, dog or other animal.  In general, living things become stronger when subjected to progressive stress.  All it takes is the manipulation of variables such as intensity and duration to cause the physiological systems to alter and subsequently strengthen.

Furthermore, the closer your horse’s training resembles that of elite competitors, the better your chances are for success.  Legging up might prove to help with aerobic conditioning along with the development of additional soft tissue systems.  However, lengthy and slow gallops have the potential to damage bone structure that is essential to every young thoroughbred’s development.

Follow the advice set forth in this article and you really will enjoy a meaningful competitive advantage over the rest of the field.  Though it is still certainly possible your horse will pull up lame with this new training schedule, the return on investment and overarching success rate across posterity will convince you to keep moving forward with this proven approach to horse training. Be sure to follow the Richard Schibell Racing blog for more articles like this one!