©2019 Calvin L. Carter. All rights reserved.
The death of 30 horses at Santa Anita Park since January and the Stronach Group’s banning of Hall of Fame Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer from racing at Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields, highlights the intense scrutiny that the Horse Racing Industry has received in recent months.
That intense scrutiny by track and state investigators and the media has shown the national spotlight on trainers and how they manage the horses in their care.
In a CNN interview by Nick Watt, Scott Herbertson, a professional gambler and horse owner, said: “I think it’s a few bad apples that make us all look bad, you got guys pushing horses beyond their limits and causing these catastrophic accidents.”
Jockey Club President James Gagliano said: “We think that we are at a tipping point and this is America’s legacy sport. But it has to look inside and make some substantial changes.”
As I read the news about the horse deaths, I’m reminded of another time and era when horses and racing were viewed more as a sport and not a commercial enterprise or product.
In a 1979 interview by Michael Horacek for The Thoroughbred Record, noted author and developer of Dosage, Franco Varola, stated: “The racecourse should a center of equine life. I fear we shall end up with horrible metropolitan tracks. I fear we shall let the Turf be covered by empty Coke cans and garbage during mass Saturday meetings with punters shouting, ‘Come on, Number Seven!...Sometimes, I admit, I tend to be depressed by the Turf changing itself from sport into industry, by the clandestine betting, by the atmosphere so different from that of my younger days.”
And, in his book Typology of the Racehorse (page 231), Varola wrote: "…the Thoroughbred is sociologically significant because, as often repeated in this book, it is a microcosm of man and repeat’s man’s motives and trends in the various areas and times.”
Burchard von Oettingen was the Director of the German Royal Stud at the turn of the Twentieth Century and in his book Horse Breeding In Theory and Practice (page 194), he wrote: “Our present day Thoroughbred is the outcome of race propositions, and of the manner of breeding and training, which those propositions entail. These propositions are made on human understanding, and are influenced by human misunderstanding, and what is much worse, by many side interests. Only by clever and purpose-answering race propositions, as well as by reasonable breeding and rational training, shall we be able to still more improve our Thoroughbreds.”
Anyone who’s followed my blog for any length of time knows that much of my study of Thoroughbreds has been greatly influenced by Varola, Oettingen and Federico Tesio who was a world-renowned owner, breeder and trainer of Thoroughbred racehorses. I’ve written numerous blogs about them and chronicled their story in Horse Profiling: The Secret to Motivating Equine Athletes – a book I co-authored with Kerry Thomas, founder of the Thomas Herding Technique.
At this point, I thought it fitting to look back in time to see what Oettingen wrote about training horses in Horse Breeding In Theory and Practice (pages 399-404).
I HAVE already mentioned in previous chapters the importance of individualisation in the treatment of both breeding material and foals. It is quite evident that when training horses, whether for the purpose of racing or hunting or other performances, it is most important to individualise, and it is therefore impossible to give a hard and fast rule. I only intend to give general points of view, ideas and experiences, from which each individual breeder must build up his own theory according to the particular requirements of his available material, the training track and climate, etc. The difficulty of the art of training lies in the fact that its object, the horse, like all other living creatures, is endowed with many powerful characteristics, rendering a machine-like and uniform treatment impossible. If the horse were a machine, then training would not be an art, and racing tests to the lifeless clock time would be all that would be required. Furthermore, the work of the trainer is made difficult by the task of having to obtain the highest possible degree of fitness by a fixed time, i.e., the race day. The object of all training consists in removing all superfluous fat and connective tissues, in strengthening the muscles and sinews, and in clearing the wind. In order to obtain this result the horses must be watched carefully and correctly every day and properly dealt with. The trainer's eye is the cause of horses being fit or unfit.
The suitable English and Irish soil, as well as the admirable racing tracks —given by the grace of God—especially at Newmarket, has led the Englishmen also in this branch into the comfortable and tenacious conservatism which is just as dangerous and hostile to all progress as was the former conservatism of artillerymen with reference to breech-loaders not invented by them. It has taken a long time before the simplest doctrines of hygiene could remove much of the evil in English training. The distinct successes of the Americans in training and riding during the course of the last ten years have caused Englishmen to think and reform where necessary. In both training and riding, Americans, who are not bound down by tradition, and who are not spoiled by English pastures and galloping grounds, obtained great successes through their practical ideas and almost inconsiderate leaning to what is natural. Moreover, the Americans have reason to be proud of the fact that Old England, with its long history of classical races, has had to learn such a rough lesson from them!
(a) The Training Methods.
The training methods of the eighteenth century, that is, at the time of Eclipse, born 1st April, 1764, had to adapt themselves to the following circumstances: —
1. There were only a few attainable racecourses for each horse, and the racing season was much shorter than it is today, often only three months.
2. In most cases only four-year-old and older horses ran. Three-year olds only since 1756, and two-year-olds only since 1773.
3. There were no railways, and consequently the visiting of the different racecourses entailed long journeys on foot.
4. Most races were run for a distance of 2 to 4 English miles, with heats, the weights for six-year-olds being 12 stone.
At that time it was very usual to keep horses in training for only three to four months, and to send them for the rest of the time to grass. After the grazing, training began with weekly physics and bleedings. Then the horse received about two sweating gallops weekly, over distances of 2 to 6 English miles. During the sweating gallops with woollen rugs, some parts of the body which had too much flesh very often—for example, the neck—were covered with extra heavy rugs. In these gallops the last quarter of a mile had to be ridden a little more quick, that means at half speed. After the sweating gallop the nose and mouth were washed, then the horses were brought into the stable or in the so-called rubbing-down house, and there covered with several woollen rugs until the sweat oozed out in sufficient quantities. The sweat was then removed with a sweating knife, and the horse rubbed dry by four persons with woollen cloths, then covered with fresh rugs and given walking exercise for half an hour. Some days a week complete rest days were usual, whilst long walking exercise, as is common today, was almost unknown. The usual daily canter or gallop was over 2 to 4 English miles, often without a leading horse, and in anv case at a slower pace than is usual to-day. The word "canter," meaning a quiet gallop, arises from the slow manner in which the pilgrims walked to the grave of Archbishop Thomas Becket at Canterbury, murdered 1170.
The development of training in the last century, after the coming into prominence of the classical races for two and three-year-olds, proceeded as follows:—
1. According to Darvill, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, following sweating gallops were given. For yearlings over 2 miles, for two-year-olds over 2½ miles, for three-year-olds over 3 to 3½ miles, for four-year-olds over 4 to 4½ miles, and for 5 and 6 year-olds over 5 miles.
2. The sweating gallops gradually became more scarce, and were held over somewhat shorter distances. The sweating gallops of two-year-olds (at the beginning once weekly, over 1 English mile) gradually ceased altogether.
3. Sweating gallops at the beginning of the nineteenth century were given in addition to the daily work, i.e., in addition to the quick work or so-called gallop. Later on there was no quick gallop on the days of the sweating gallops.
4. Opening medicines, called physics, became more rare, and are finally limited to one or two doses a year, especially in spring, shortly before the beginning of quicker work, i.e., beginning as they are transferred from the straw-bed to the racecourse.
5. The daily work consisted of 1½ to 2 hours in the morning, and about 1 hour in the afternoon. This afternoon work, however, does not seem to have been generally practised, and ceases almost everywhere towards the end of the nineteenth century.
6. The work in the forenoon for the two-year-olds consisted of a short walk and trot, then two quiet canters of about 1,000 metres, and then a somewhat quicker canter of about 1,200 metres, the latter once or twice weekly, at full or half speed. The older horses cantered and galloped just as often, but over longer distances. The distance was gradually increased to the distance of the racecourse, i.e., extending eventually over 4 miles, equal to 6,437 metres. In Autumn the yearlings cantered two or three times daily, each time 600 to 800 metres, and in the late autumn were tried up to 800 metres with the assistance of an older leading horse. The afternoon work consisted only in walking and a little trotting.
7. About the second half of the nineteenth century the work of the yearlings and of the two and three-year-olds was limited to two canters daily, of which the second canter was somewhat longer and quicker. Once or twice weekly the second canter was made almost at racing pace, in accordance with the progressive condition. The three-year-old and older horses cantered generally about 1 English mile, seldom more than 2,000 metres. Derby horses, for example, galloped at least two or three times before the race 1½ miles, equal to 2,414 metres, at full racing speed. Gallops over longer distances than 1½ English miles gradually cease altogether, even in the case of horses, for example, which were trained for the Doncaster St. Leger (distance 1 mile, 6 furlongs, 132 yards, equal to 2,937 metres).
The present day views on training are characterised as follows :—
1. Sweating gallops and physics are only applied in exceptional cases when the condition of the legs does not permit that quantity of work by which the useless fat and flesh, called in German luder, can be removed, and yet at the same time muscle can be formed. Further physics are given if a horse, in consequence of too much work, has become stale or has broken down, so that during the time of its enforced rest it may not put on too much flesh. If a broken down horse has to be blistered or fired, it is given a pill before and after the rest of four to six weeks. Where needed it is also given a physic about eight days before the race when some slight accident to a fit horse requires an important reduction of work.
2. The daily work consists in the morning of 1½ to 2½ hours' walking exercise, none or very little trotting, and two canters or gallops. In the afternoon ¾ to 1 hour's walking exercise, either led or with a man up. After the beginning of the fast work, it is calculated that under normal conditions about six weeks are sufficient to make the horse fit for racing up to I3 English miles, equal to 2,000 metres; whilst at least two months are required if the distance is IJ English miles, equal to 2,400 metres.
3. In the case of the two daily canters or gallops, the last 500 to 800 metres (or as some trainers say, the last 300 to 600 metres) should, according to the American idea, be done at medium pace, and in the case of a more advanced condition at racing pace, at first only in the second canter, later on in both. The beginning of this gallop in any case must be done at such a slow pace that one can trot alongside. This slow part of the canter may be accordingly extended up to 2,000 to 3,000 metres. Once or twice weekly, in the case of more advanced condition, the quick part of the second gallop may be extended up to 1,200 to 1,600 metres, later on up to at the most 2,000 metres, when, of course, the slow part can be very much reduced, or omitted altogether. Only few trainers are of the opinion that the gallop at racing pace may be extended up to 2,400 metres.
The idea which underlies this kind of training is that the daily gallops over short distances, at a medium or at racing pace, bring the muscles which are used for quicker work, and the lungs, better and more surely into condition than the former usual longer gallops, undertaken once or twice weekly, for which the horses were not sufficiently prepared, as the other daily work was only slow cantering.
The new method of training is supposed to effect a daily, uninterrupted and gradual improvement of condition, whilst formerly, according to the doctrine of the old trainers, every two steps forward should be counteracted 'by one in the opposite direction. Moreover, experience has taught that gallops at racing pace for longer distances than about 2,000 metres do not improve the condition, but rather the reverse. The winner of the St. Leger, 1906, Troutbeck, has, as I have been assured by his trainer, W. Waugh, never during the whole of his existence galloped or cantered over a longer distance than 2,000 metres. On the other hand, the American trainer, Walker, who gets perhaps the most out of his horses, gave his Derby candidate. Eels, several gallops at racing pace over 2,400 metres, sometimes even with relay leading horses. But even this trainer is of opinion that this distance is the extreme limit, and is even sufficient, for example, for the preparation of the Grand Prix, which is run over a distance of 3,000 metres.
In the bigger and better American racing stables, one often finds the practical arrangement of using one part of the stablemen for riding only, whilst the greater part is employed in cleaning, feeding and leading the horses. A racing stable of about 30 horses not far from New York, had, for example, only two stable boys who could ride. Besides these, the stable jockey also rode. The cleaning and feeding of the horses, as well as taking them to their daily work on the racecourse, and in the afternoon generally to the yard, was undertaken by about eight to ten young fellows who, however, never were allowed to ride. By this arrangement the two stable lads had plenty of opportunity to practise galloping, as they galloped each of their about 7 horses twice daily. It is principally owing to this very practical division of work that the Americans are in the position to produce so many good jockeys. Some of them even learn to accomplish fairly accurately the very difficult task of doing a gallop whilst training at a certain defined pace (eventually 1 mile in about 1 min. 50 sees.). In American training such tasks are very popular. The most difficult task, however, is to ride definite distances in the shortest possible time. The partisans of racing against time do not recognise, in my opinion, sufficiently the difficulties attached to same. Thev think that in our racing to a finish the art of the jockey in riding is more important than the capacity of riding in the shortest possible time. If the horse were a mere machine it would be an easy thing to get the best record by letting it go full speed ahead from start to finish. With living horses, however, the best record would certainly not be obtained by this method.
…Besides a horse's galloping performances, there are several other very remarkable signs to show how far its condition has improved. To commence with, notice must be taken how long it takes the horse to snort (clear the wind) after it has been pulled up. The sooner this happens the more forward is its condition, especially the breathing. If the horse, for example, requires a minute or more to snort, it is a sure sign that the horse has been asked to do too much in the gallop in question, i.e., a mistake has been made. If the horse is very fit and the gallop has been too short, i.e., it has been easy work for it, it takes a long time lo snort, or it does not snort at all. The length and pace of the gallop must fit the condition, so that if it clears the wind by snorting 10 to 30 seconds after being pulled up, it is a sure sign that everything is all right.
In the case of a horse which is fit the skin becomes thinner, the hair more shiny, and the flesh firmer. The latter, as well as the disappearance of useless fat, can best be noticed at the mane and on the ribs. A little easy sweating is by no means a sign of bad condition, on the contrary, a fit horse certainly sweats less but more readily, as its sweat is more liquid and its skin thinner and more readily penetrated. The sweat of a fit horse looks like clear water; on the other hand, that of an unfit one like lather, which can be most distinctly seen between the hind legs, and dries up less quickly. If the horse when galloping begins to become long, or to breathe more deeply, pressing the knees of the jockey outwards, it is a sign for the jockey to pull up.
Finally, I must add that before the race, and in order to get a perfect condition, in most cases several gallops at full speed, over not more than 2,000 metres, are required, and that the last quick gallop—which often works wonders—must be undertaken two or three days before race day. Of course, even after this last gallop the horse must do its usual two canters daily up to the day of the race. On the day of the race itself, early in the morning, give the horse 1 to 1½ hours' walking exercise, a short canter of 800 metres, and a so-called sprint for the same distance. If desired, you can do as the Americans like to—let the sprint follow the canter without any interval. About five hours before the race give the horse some oats with a little water. An hour before racing lead the horse out of the stable…
(In Part II, we’ll take another look back in time at Oettingen’s “Conclusions and Propositions as to the Improvement and Breeding of Thoroughbreds.)