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My grandson got up early and rode with me to the training center to watch some young horses work on the track. He was tired but excited to see some young racehorse prospects and asked why do horses train so early.
Early morning workouts allow the trainers and jockeys time to tend to the horses and still make afternoon racing. High temperatures, horse traffic at the training facility, and jockey availability are also considerations for early morning training.
Getting to the afternoon track is a significant consideration for working racehorses early in the mornings, but not the only reason. There are other important reasons to get an early start on the day.
Why early morning training is necessary for racehorses.
A lot of horses share a track.
We’ve used a few different tracks to train our racehorses, both public and private facilities. At open training tracks, you share the course with lots of other trainers.
Some training facilities are semi-public.
The largest training facility in our area is the Folsom Training Center. The earliest you can start is 5:30 am. On a typical day, there will be horses lined up and ready to go as soon as they are allowed to enter the track.
The video below describes our local training facility. It is set up like a condominium association. Each barn is privately owned and contributes to a maintenance fee for the track and common grounds.
In Louisiana, it’s essential to get your horses on the track early because of the heat. Heat exhaustion and dehydration are significant concerns. It warms up fast in south Louisiana, and the high temperatures aren’t suitable for working horses.
Training sessions for the horses include either walking, trotting, galloping, and working (running). A large number of horses that get on the track requires you to start early before the course gets overcrowded.
Horses get fed at least an hour before training.
On an average day, trainers get to the barns at least an hour before taking the horses to the track. When they first arrive, they make sure the horses are fed and ensure each horse is appropriately prepared for their workout.
Adequate preparation includes checking the horses’ feet and legs for any heat, grooming, wrapping the legs if necessary, and tacking the horse. The exercise jockeys make their rounds. They have to schedule their mounts.
Training jockeys ride many horses each morning.
One jockey may ride a horse for a trainer then move to another barn to ride for a different trainer, then go back and ride for the first trainer a second and third time. He may ride upwards of twenty horses each morning.
Each horse in a trainers barn has its workout schedule depending on its level of fitness and distance; he is training to race. Some horses may go to the track for a morning jog to loosen up. Others may work at a race pace.
Every horse has an individual training schedule.
Once the horse has concluded his training on the track, he is taken back to the barn to have his tack and saddle removed. The groom checks the horse for any problems and rinses him before beginning a cool down walk.
Some trainers like to hand-walk their horses, but most put the horses on a walker. While the horse is out of the barn, the stall’s cleaned, and fresh hay hung. After the cool-down period, the horse is given a good bath and returned to his stable.
It commonly takes a trainer until noon to finish with his morning routine. If he has horses running later that evening, he will start preparing for the races now.
Private racehorse training facilities have less traffic.
Sometimes it is easier to use a private training facility. We have kept horses at our home and used a neighbors track to work our racehorse in the mornings. At private facilities, there is less horse traffic.
We didn’t need to get to the track early to ensure we had open lanes to work, but we still had to consider the temperature and the availability of a jockey, and on weekdays, I had to work.
Our procedure included waking up at four and feeding our horse, getting him ready to trailer over to the track and meet the jockey for 6 am. This process worked great for us, and I especially appreciated having an open course for our young horse.
Horses benefit from socializing on the track.
But horses need to be around other horses and different environments to be a successful racehorse. If their only exposure to the sites and sounds of a bustling racing facility is on race day, there is a risk of the horse washing out.
In horse lingo, “washing out” is when a horse becomes soaking wet from sweating because it’s nervous. When a horse “washes out” it’s in danger of dehydrating, and likely won’t load in the starting gates. You can learn more about horses sweating here.
Public racehorse training facilities have the most traffic.
Trainers have barns on the “backside” of racetracks. The “backside” of a track is a term used to describe the stables and living areas for staff, located on the racetrack grounds.
It is usually behind the track opposite the grandstands. Trainers that run a group of horses at a track will lease a barn during the race season. Trainers with one or two horses can rent a stall in a barn at the track. The New Orleans Fairgrounds has stall applications you can view here.
Some big-time trainers have barns at multiple racetracks. High-level trainers have associates manage the barns when he is not present. To read more about becoming a trainer and the duties of a trainer, click here.
There are advantages to keeping a racehorse at a racetrack. Being housed at the track gives the horse familiarity with the running surface and surroundings. The horse isn’t hauled in for the race and is familiar with the starting gates and the jockey.
The reason trainer train early at racetracks is because the track has a schedule for training hours each morning. There is a large number of horses housed at all tracks. Trainers have to start working horses early or risk, not having enough time to exercise all of their horses.
Do Jockeys Ride the Horse Before the Race?
An aquatenance of mine was excited because he secured a leading jockey to ride a horse for him in a stakes race. I know top jockeys stay really busy so I wondered if he will have an opportunity to ride the horse before the race.
Jockeys typically ride a horse before its race if the horse trains at the racetrack, of the competition. During workouts, the trainers encourage the race jockey to ride their mounts, so the horse and rider become familiar with each other.
Racehorses kept at off-site training facilities are less likely to have been ridden by the race jockey before the race, but this is not always the case. Racehorses need an official work before it’s eligible to run.
Official workouts are run in public and timed by track officials. The times from the workouts are published in racing forms, used by gamblers. A horse is required to have a certain number of official works before it is eligible to race.
For an official workout, a trainer will encourage the race jockey to ride his horse. Horses kept at off-side training sites are hauled to the racetrack for official workouts.
I can guarantee that every jockey in the Kentucky Derby rode his mount before the big race.
What Age Do Racehorses Start Training?
When I go watch the horses train in the morning, there are always a lot of extremely young horses on the track. To already be working on the track, the horses must start training at an awfully young age.
Racehorse training starts at a very young age. Typically racehorses are halter broken by the time they are a yearling. By the time they are two, they are saddle broke and taken to the training track.
Horses are individuals and develop at different rates. A horse’s knees have to grow to a particular stage before heavy pressure created by running while carrying a person can be put on them. Quarter horses’ knees typically develop earlier than Thoroughbreds’ horses.
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