Race Horse Care: How to Keep Your Horse Healthy
Racehorses have been a source of entertainment for people for hundreds of years. Many people are involved in preparing horses for successful careers.
Below are several things that are done before and after race day to help the horse perform to their highest potential.
Before the race
Several things can be done to help the horse, like heat and ice therapy. Horses also prosper under a feeding schedule and a daily routine.
Just like athletes, heat and ice therapy help horses ease their pains and aches. Putting a horse’s legs in an ice bath every day helps with ligament and joint inflammation.
Infrared blankets help the horse by increasing blood flow to the sore area and decreasing aches. Infrared sheets are a type of heat therapy trainers use to soothe soreness.
Horses also benefit from a daily routine. Every day, in preparation for their next race, horses are exercised in some way.
The grooms feed the horses around the same time each day to stay in a routine. Grooms are the ones who take care of the horses’ daily needs.
A conditioning program should be specific to the event to train appropriately for the type of exercise in the game. For example, Pegasus World Cup horses and Harness Racing horses are trained differently.
There are two general classes of conditioning programs: high speed and slow speed.
Endurance training or slow-speed long distance conditioning is used in the first weeks of all conditioning programs and may include breaking.
Conditioning programs, such as racehorse training that use this method usually proceeds fast exercise. It includes sessions of trotting and cantering at slow speeds for long distances to promote aerobic production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) for energy.
At two-to-three week intervals, trainers usually start the horses off slowly and gradually increase the distance.
Depending on the type of event, the total length of time a horse remains on this conditioning program can be anywhere from four to five weeks (racehorses) to nine months (endurance horses).
Improvements in limb strength, aerobic capacity, and adaptation of skeletal muscle have been seen with slow-speed conditioning.
High-speed conditioning is generally interspersed with slow-speed, long distance days and is used to improve the anaerobic capacity of a horse. This conditioning method varies with the event and the horse.
Some trainers increase the speed for very short distances until near maximum speed is reached, then increase the range. Others gradually increase the speed with an established distance. Depending on the conditioning method used, the frequency of the high-speed days also varies.
The common goal of high-speed conditioning is to increase the amount of training that stimulates anaerobic production of ATP without causing overtraining or fatigue.
Most trainers condition their horses at 70 to 85 percent maximum event speed for it is thought that conditioning at maximum event speed may overwork a horse.
After the race
As soon as the race is over, the work is not nearly done. The groom must take care of the horse after the run and make sure everything is normal.
You want the horse to be just as the sound coming out of the race as they were when they went into it. Soundness refers to having good overall health and being free from injury.
The horse is returned to the barn to be “cooled out” after the race. The phrase “cooled out” refers to when the horse’s heart rate returns to normal after walking. After the horse has been cooled out, it can go back in its stall.
While being cooled out, the horse must drink water. However, hay and grain must be kept from the horse for an extended period after racing.
After the race, eating hay too soon can lead to choking. Eating grain while still hot from running can lead to founder. A founder is a condition where the hooves get hot and are extremely painful.
A poultice is placed on the horse’s legs after they are in their stall. The horse’s legs recover faster from running hard through the help of poultice which is a clay mixture.
After racing, the horse will usually get a couple of days off to recover. Preparation for the next race begins, once the rest days have passed.
A racing program and ideal conditioning allow racehorses of all breeds to remain sound through their racing careers, perform at their peak and be ready to commence a second career in another discipline.
Ensuring that horses have an optimum performance on race day, proper care is needed. Moreover, it takes careful conditioning and management to keep any racehorse in tip-top shape. Although some steps make no impact on race performance, caring for horses has to encompass their years in the pasture.