In general, I like to give horses three months off without any weight on their backs. I will start by giving them 60 days of turn out followed by 30 days of any other kind of exercise without weight on their back. That would include lungeing or walking or jogging in an exerciser machine or hand-walking That period of rest can be very beneficial to a horse’s mind and body and keeps them fresh and eager to do their job.
That said, you have to take each horse’s racing schedule into account. You need to allow for about 12 weeks of training before your first race, so there are a few exceptions when the three-month break is not recommended:
1. Horses that raced right up until December and stay in Canada over the winter. If you want this horse to race again in the spring there won’t be enough time to get him fit again.
2. Horses that excel at the short distance races (five furlongs) scheduled in early spring will need to be fitter earlier.
3. Horses prepping for big 3-year-old races towards the beginning of the summer. These horses need to be fit and ready at the beginning of the season so they get the right experience and miles in the spring and are ready for the big races.
These horses need to be back in training three months before their first race. When they do start back, the first couple of weeks would include jogging two miles two days a week, gallop 1 1/2 miles four days, with one day off. When these horses are fit enough they can start with a two or three furlong workout. When workouts are added once a week, the program changes to gallop three days, jog one day, gallop one, work and then a day off.
Training Horses in the U.S.
Aside from the nicer weather, the best part of training in the U.S. is that it’s usually easier to find straightaway tracks to work on. Evidence shows that modern thoroughbreds are injured by speed, weight and turns. The torque of angular acceleration is hazardous to young bones and muscle and should be avoided whenever possible. Unfortunately, none of the North American tracks have straightaways.
It is often ideal for horses to have a race in the U.S. somewhere, New York, Philadelphia, Florida, etc., before coming back to Woodbine for opening day — although you don’t want to race a five-furlong specialist at six furlongs beforehand as that can dull their natural speed. But in general, giving a horse a race in the U.S. before they return here can help a horse win a race in the spring that they normally wouldn’t win because they are fit.
To avoid unnecessary injury, it is extremely important to tell riders to stay off the horse’s back at the jog. Note: this applies any time and not just when they are coming back from a winter break. Many riders want to post at the trot, but banging on the backs of these young horses can lead to back problems. It is harder work for riders and tough on their legs, but it is very important protocol to follow. Of course, if the horse is green or being silly, then you will want to keep some contact with the saddle, but, in general, stay off their backs.
Be sure that your horse is 100 per cent sound before you start any training. If you don’t think he is, or are not sure, ask a qualified vet to give him an exam. When horses are at a farm for just a couple of months getting turned out it can be easy to overlook problems. When the horse is back at the track you might notice something small that has cropped up over the winter which can get worse from training. Do not start anything with the horse until the problem is resolved.
When the horses are up to their second workouts at a particular distance you will want the time to be a bit faster than that of the first workout.
For example, the first work at three furlongs would be in 39 seconds, the next week that should be 37 and change. The first work at 4 furlongs would be in 50 seconds, which should be trimmed to 48 (and change) seconds the following week. The first workout is for fitness and the second one is for toning