Racehorses are the ultimate equine athletes. Their power and performance has been achieved through an intensive training programme which needs to be well managed to optimise their bodies for speed without causing injury. Although most of us don’t intend to race our horses, we thought it would be interesting to talk to a racehorse trainer to find out how they keep their horses sound - as there may be a thing or two that we can learn and apply to our own horse’s training programmes, regardless of the discipline.
A bit about Charlie
Charlie Fellowes is a racehorse trainer who has been lucky enough to work with the likes of James Fanshawe, Lee Freedman and Nicky Henderson in his career. From the age of six, Charlie started to develop an infatuation with the magical combination of intense competition and nature at its magisterial best, and now having set up Charlie Fellowes Racing is living his childhood dream.
In three seasons, Charlie and his team have trained 52 winners at a 15% strike rate and in 2016 had their first stakes winning with Moonlit Show. With an exciting bunch of older horses, and some well-bred two year olds coming through, Charlie Fellowes Racing look to have a bright future ahead of them.
Now let’s hear from Charlie on keeping a racehorse sound…
Firstly, everyone deserves a holiday and racehorses are no exception to this. Charlie says, “I aim to give the horses at least a two months holiday break. If they are in training with me and owned by an ‘owner/breeder’ they usually go home to them. Or if the owner doesn’t have the facilities there is a place in Warwickshire, I can send them to so that they all get time off to rest.”
Once the horses return from their holiday, they then start their early fittening regime. “The horses come in and have at least a month’s trotting work. Horses that come in later would have a minimum of two weeks. After this ‘trotting’ period, we start to slowly increase their work load and it takes roughly three months before they are race fit.”
The farrier plays an important part in keeping the horses sound and Charlie tells us, “the horses are shod normally once every three weeks. All those that are racing fit have racing plates on and the ones that aren’t at that level yet have normal steel shoes.” We ask Charlie whether racehorses have to race with shoes on and he informs us that, “there are no rules to say a horse can’t be barefoot, but it is extremely rare to see one with all four feed unshod. It is more common to have horses that have their hinds off and only fronts, but all of mine have all feet shod.”
Finally, we asked Charlie about how he maintains a horse’s soundness over time, “that is a difficult question to answer. The main source of injuries occur when horses are asked to do things they aren’t fit enough to do. Injuries often occur when they are tired and then they lose their natural action – it’s like a human running a marathon not 100% fit – the last half or quarter of the race your action changes and this is the most dangerous time. To keep their soundness and health, I strive to make sure they are ready to do what they are asked to do. Patience is required (from us and their owners) so that we can take the time to build up the horse’s strength and stamina slowly which will ultimately allow us to get the best out of the horse.”
Most owners at some point will have to deal with a lame horse which can result from a number of reasons and regaining soundness can often take time and money. Charlie has identified three ‘common-sense’ ways of helping to reduce the risk of lameness in racehorses which can certainly be applied to any horse regardless of their discipline. We’ve summarised these as;
- Rest & Recuperation – whether it’s a day or several months, horses need the appropriate time off after intensive work in order to give their bodies a chance to recover.
- Farrier attention – as they say, ‘no hoof, no horse’, so regular visits from the farrier can help to keep your horse’s feet in good condition which in turn will help to keep them sound. Unless your horse is in intensive work or has poor feet, a farrier visit every 6-8 weeks should suffice.
- Appropriate level of fitness – to help keep your horse sound, avoid pushing them beyond what their level of fitness permits. When booking a competition or event, ensure you have enough time to build up their fitness to an appropriate level that meets the physical demand required.
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