Exactly how a racehorse is trained depends on the horse, in terms of its pedigree, level of maturity and temperament, and the individual preferences of the trainer in whose care the horse is placed. Generally speaking, Flat racehorses are trained to be ridden, or ‘broken’, as they approach their second birthday. By this stage, they will already have been ‘lunged’, or worked in a circle at the end of a lunge line, in response to voice commands and body language. Other forms of riderless exercise, such as long reining, improve balance, rhythm, posture and strength before a young horse is asked to accept a rider.
Training typically commences with three-month period of ‘slow’ work or, in other words, high concentration, low movement exercise. Slow work gradually improves cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength, as well as teaching horses to remain focused, yet relaxed, in their work. A horse’s pedigree often gives a trainer a pretty good idea of what to expect, distance-wise, but slow work can help to confirm, or contradict, intial expectations.
Once sufficiently fit, horses progress from hack cantering, at a very steady pace, to ‘fast’ or ‘sharp; work, which involves galloping faster, with or without urging from the rider, over distances of two or three furlongs. Some horses do fast work alone, but others work ‘in company’, alongside another horse. In so doing, they learn to experience pressure and relief from their riders, via leg and reins, and to respond accordingly, rather than simply galloping uncontrolled.