You Get What You Train For

It may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how often this simple tenet is overlooked. If you’re training a staying horse to run distance races, fast work should tend to focus on longer gallops. The fast work of a sprinter should be shorter, faster works.

The problem with this approach is that you literally get what you train for. By concentrating too much on longer, slower gallops, you tend to end up with a slow horse. Too much focus on half mile breezes will result in a horse that goes fast for a while, but that may not be able to finish off it’s races.

The answer is a combination of the two. Author Tom Ivers used to talk about a “tapered series” of gallops, whereby, targeting a 1200m race, you might first work over a mile, then three days later work a good strong 1200m, then three days after that work a “fluffy” 5/8 – not too hard – then go racing. With this sort of work, you develop the ability of the horse to stay, without compromising too much on speed.

I can’t recommend Tom Ivers’ books strongly enough – particularly The Fit Racehorse II (see my review here), and The Complete Guide To Claiming Thoroughbreds. The Complete Guide focuses on claiming races in America, but the training principles can be applied anywhere.

How To Ride a Thoroughbred Racehorse – Part II

In Part I, I wrote about a couple of techniques to assist with riding racehorses, including bridging your reins and holding one rein firmly on the wither and the other rein loose. Here is another technique:

Keep at least one finger under the breastplate strap at all times.  One of Australia’s leading jockeys gave me this tip when I was riding trackwork at Randwick, and it has saved me several times.  If you’re riding short in an exercise pad, and your horse shies suddenly, it’s very difficult to stay aboard.  By holding the breastplate strap, you have an anchor.  You can actually gather the breastplate strap and hold it with your bridged reins, as you see jockey Jeff Lloyd doing here at Rosehill in Sydney:

Jeff Lloyd Jockey

Jeff Lloyd Riding Trackwork at Rosehill Gardens - Courtesy The Daily Telegraph

How To Ride a Thoroughbred Racehorse

When it comes to horse racing, a competent exercise rider is critical. There is a huge difference between riding a horse in almost any other discipline, and riding a thoroughbred racehorse.

Thoroughbreds learn early, to get “on the bit”; they naturally love to run, and most racehorses, once they know what they’re doing, will be keen to get to work as soon as they hit the track. The role of the exercise rider is to stay balanced and restrain the horse to the required tempo, and usually, while exercising, this is a steady canter. Even during fast work sessions, most trainers like their horses to be kept “on the bit”. It is rare to see horses pushed out a the end of a breeze.

So how do you ride a racehorse? They key is to maintain control at all times, and it is more about technique than strength. Older thoroughbreds often have a hard, or “dead” mouth, from years of pulling riders around the track. I’ve seen the strongest riders struggle to hold these horses because they’re simply pulling against the horse.

Here are two simple techniques that will help you to hold your horse:

1. Cross your reins to form a “bridge” and hold it tight on the horse’s neck – not high up but down low closer to the saddle. A tractable horse will flex it’s neck while working, and it ends up pulling against its own neck. I have held the strongest pullers with one hand in this manner.  You can see the world’s fastest racehorse, Black Caviar, being worked in this way here, with jockey Luke Nolen aboard (picture courtesy The Daily Telegraph):

2. Keep one rein tight on the wither and hold the other rein loose. As the horse quickens, put pressure on the loose rein to bring the horse back to the speed required.

It is inevitable that, as you’re learning, the odd horse will run off on you. As a friend of mine says, there’s no end to a circle. So, assuming that you’re working on a circular racecourse (and you shouldn’t be anywhere else if you’re not absolutely confident that you have full control of your horse first), don’t panic. Just keep steering the horse around the track and it will tire. This won’t happen once you learn how to hold your horse properly.