Getting a feel for training

As the old saying goes “One minute’s performance on the stage requires 10 years’ relentless practice”, and the same principle can be applied to training horses. The glory of racedays are closely linked to the day-to-day devotion of the trainer and his team.
Walking to the track

Last week I had the honor to work in Darley’s lay-up barn in Keeneland, where I worked closely with a trainer for the first time and learned some common injuries and their treatment.

The day in the barn starts at 5:30 am regardless of the weather. Even during the harsh winter this year in Lexington, when the temperature dropped to minus 30 degrees, training only stopped for 10 days. Horses are sent here for different purposes and have a different pace of recovery; therefore training schedules for each horse is different.

My favorite part of the day was to follow trainer Johnny Burke to the track to see the horses galloping. There are two training tracks in Keeneland - one dirt and one synthetic. Mr Burke would switch the track each day so that the horses could adapt to the different surfaces. For those horses who are fitter, Mr Burke would fast walk them every Saturday.

Sharing his training experience with me, he said, “There is no secret to horse training, everything is just about common sense. It is all about building up and finding a balance between a horse’s diet and training.” Isn’t life just like that? Everything is about building up from ground level and striking a balance.”

Beyond our farm work, team USA also visited the unique training facilities of Margaux farm and KESMARC (Kentucky Equine Sports Medicine And Rehabilitation Center). The specialties of Margaux farm lay in the fact that it has three training tracks with different distances and surfaces to meet the training demands of horses aiming for various races. What’s worth noting is the one-mile turf track, which includes a three-furlong flat track mainly for speed and a two-furlong uphill track aiming to build up the horse’s muscle. Another highlight of the farm is the 7.5-furlong synthetic track for galloping, which has a very good drainage system. Remarkably, training was lost for only eight days during the harshest time of winter this year.

KESMARC is a renowned horse rehabilitation center both locally and internationally. It is well equipped with an equine swimming poor, a freestyle walking machine, cold saltwater spa and hyperbaric oxygen chamber. Horse owners from as far afield as Qatar, Europe and Australia send their horses here for rehabilitation. The owner of KESMARC, Kirsten Johnson, is very passionate and she shared with us her business principles and her confidence in the bright future of the Chinese thoroughbred industry.

Team USA

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Morning galloping
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