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!