How are horses trained?

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.

What do horses eat and drink?

All horses are biologically warm-blooded, so require food for energy and self-regulating biological processes, such as maintaining constant body temperature, collectively known as ‘homeostasis’. Racehorses, in particular, can be considered elite athletes, who require the right combination of foodstuffs, in the right amounts, to maintain their fitness, health and performance levels.

Typically, their diet is based on highly nutritional, premier forage, such as grass or hay, which is supplemented with grains, such as barley, corn and oats. The latter foodstuffs provide soluble carbohydrates, which are converted to molecules of glucose, and hence to energy, immediately or at some time in the future. If not required immediately, glucose is stored in the liver and muscles in a long chain, or ‘polymeric’, form, known as glycogen. When required, glycogen is converted back into glucose molecules, which are circulated via the bloodstream to boost cell metabolism.

Like all elite athletes, racehorses sweat profusely while exercising or racing, so must drink up to twenty gallons of clean water every day to remain adequately hydrated, healthy and performing to the best of their abilities. Stories of legendary racehorses, such as Arkle and Nijinsky, having their diets supplemented by pints of Irish stout beer are not as fanciful as they may first appear. Irish stout is a traditional treatment for sweating disorders, such as anhidrosis, and is a source of B-complex vitamins, which have a direct impact on energy levels, cardiovascular health, muscle tone and overall well-being.

How fast are horses?

A young, fit and healthy horse typically gallops at a speed between 25 and 30 miles per hour, on average, but the even the slowest of the world records set by different breeds of horse, over different distances, is significantly faster. The American Quarter Horse, a short, stocky, heavily muscled breed, is reputedly the fastest kind of horse, albeit over short distances.

Indeed, in 2005, A Long Goodbye clocked 20.69 seconds for two furlongs, or a quarter-of-a-mile, at Sunland Park Racetrack in New Mexico, thereby setting a new world record of 43.85 miles per hour. However, the horse currently recognised by Guinness World Records as the fastest horse ever is Winning Brew, not an American Quarter Horse but a Thoroughbred, who clocked 20.57 seconds, or the equivalent of 43.97 miles per hour, over the same distance at Penn National Race Course in Pennsylvania.

Of course, in Britain, the minimum distance for any official horse race is five furlongs, or five-eights of a mile. The world record for this distance is 53.69 seconds, or the equivalent of 41.94 miles per hour, clocked by another Thoroughbred, Stone Of Folca, at Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey in 2012. In fact, by shaving just one-hundredth of a second off the previous record, set by Spark Chief over the same course and distance in 1983, Stone Of Folca clocked the fastest time since the introduction of electronic timing; prior to that, another Thoroughbred, Indigenous, clocked 53.60 seconds, albeit hand-timed, over the same course and distance.

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