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Conditioning plans for racehorses

I’m interested in learning more about the details of how trainers determine conditioning plans for their horses - hoping there’s a generous trainer out there who can provide some guidance!

I’d love to know more about the details of how a weekly training plan is made. How do you determine how fast to ask the horse to run during training? What distance? Does it depend on what race distance you’re targeting for that individual horse? How many days per week? How do you know when the horse is fit and in peak condition to run?

Context: I have worked at racetracks before, but never in a training capacity, and I’ve owned horses for a long time. I’m specifically hoping to understand more about how conditioning plans are made for active runners.

I’m not expecting any pros to divulge their most tightly held training secrets :wink: just hoping to understand more about what goes into getting a horse fit and ready to run at their best.

Welcome to COTH!

I am not a racehorse trainer, but I do own racehorses. Hopefully some trainers will chime in, but in the meantime I’ll mention that the answers to nearly all your questions are “It depends.” (on the age of the horse, its sex, its prior conditioning, where it is in its training, the track surfaces available to train on, the weather, the month of the year, etc.) Each racehorse is different and will have different needs. Any trainer who can give you blanket answers to those questions probably isn’t one you would want training your horse.


Yes, of course they are all individuals - but I imagine most trainers have general guidelines they follow.

General guidelines are…it depends :sweat_smile:

Active runners are fit, so they mostly just need maintenance. But you also asked about getting a horse fit, which is different than maintaining an already fit horse.

For maintaining fitness, some horses need or like more work—daily galloping, say, with a faster work every week or 10 days—if there’s more time between races. If there’s a short time between races, they likely won’t have a faster work at all. Some do better instead with lots of jogging or swimming and can stay fit that way, while others need to do more to stay fit. If they are stretching out in a longer race, you might do more longer gallops. Some trainers like to do a longer slower work, while others prefer a shorter, faster work. It depends on the horse’s running style, too—a speed horse versus a come-from-begins runner, e.g.

You can tell how ready the horse is by observing them. Are they happy, tucked up, alert, feeling good? Or blowing hard, weary legged, off their feed, thin or fat? What does the rider say? The groom? Hot walker? You should also be equipped with common sense, superior observational skills, and knowledge about the physiology of the horse.

Meanwhile, conditioning plans, such as they are, will also change depending on whether the horse has a physical issue and if so what kind and whether and how it can be managed. How long and how tough the next race is, and when it is. Some races come up regularly, some not at all, and you don’t know when the next one might go, so you end up having to train more until you get your race or pivot. How many races in a row how quickly will dictate your schedule. What the owner’s goals are will dictate your schedule. There will be weather. There will be people’s and racetrack’s scheduling conflicts to work around. There will be respiratory infections. There will be pressure from the front office or owners to run, and lots of surprises, and some mistakes.

If you’re really interested, I would suggest reading as much as you can in racing publications, and pay attention to what trainers say in interviews when they talk about their horses. Watch races, watch horses train. It’s something you can’t really learn on paper, I don’t think.


Coming from the upper level eventing world (the OLD format days), where you can draw up a pretty regimented, successful schedule on paper… training baby racehorses was Not That. Last year I had two colts to prep for the 2yo sales. I’ve done my share of galloping, conditioning and legging up older/active runners with a trainer’s guidance. But I’ve never started one from scratch and got him FIT. I asked our 2yo consignor for a plan, a schedule, “what to do…?” And was basically told, “Follow your instincts. Listen to your horses.” And I was expected to have them ready for him 40 days out from the sale, where he had scheduled 4 breezes to get them prepped.

That’s it. I was on my own, with no “schedule,” no plan, no suggestions, just Listen To The Horses.

I knew how to back yearlings and start them jogging, but from there? It was totally new. I constantly second-guessed myself…was I doing enough? Not enough? Too much? Would I break them? Would they be fit enough? Or over-conditioned, sore and unsound? I was worried of hurting them and causing an injury. I read everything I could about racehorse fitness; all the 2yo studies, the Maryland Shin Study, the concept of introducing short sprints early and often, very progressively. And I followed my instincts.

Basically, I had my colts jogging a mile or 10 minutes on gentle hills and cantering a couple minutes each way at home in a field, for about 30 days. Then I hauled them to a local training track every day, spent a week or two jogging on the track to acclimate them to the dirt surface. Started cantering/galloping half a lap (5/8ths track) after jogging. Cantered/slow galloped a full lap for a couple weeks. Then a lap and a half; and started letting them move out a bit more, especially the final furlong. Tuesdays and Fridays I would let them gallop side-by-side and push each other a little bit, building into a sprint on the last furlong. Basically following the shin study. Because of my eventing background, I’ll always appreciate trotting and so EVERY DAY we warmed up by jogging a mile before starting to gallop. By the time they went to the 2yo consignor, they were galloping about 15 furlongs, starting at a canter, steadily building to the end. On the sprint days I did 10 furlongs with a stronger pace, and sprinting at the end (13s furlong). My colts felt good, they seemed fit. My consignor was pleased with them and said I did a good job; he had them right where they needed to be by the time of the sale. Best of all, both colts had spotlessly clean xrays, tight joints, and 0 soundness concerns.

One colt never missed a single day of training (aside from my own change-of-plans). The other one had a heel grab and missed two weeks, and I was paranoid about an incredibly minor skin swelling and gave him a week off to be safe. This was far enough out from the sale that it didn’t matter. Some bad weather days we just jogged instead of gallop, due to sloppy footing. Some days we couldn’t use the track and had to jog/gallop in the field at home. One colt was definitely a turf horse and struggled with the dirt; I gave him more time, more jogging, more slow galloping so he built up strength. That’s what everyone means when you have to “listen to your horse” and not follow a written plan.


Those general guidelines are mostly dictated by where the horse lives; racetrack v. training center v. private farm.

Horses living on the backside of racetrack are pretty limited in how and when they can train. :woman_shrugging: Even with those limitations people still do things their own way. But you are going to have some combination of walking, jogging, galloping, and working that is going to be dictated by the horse and personal preferences.

Can you arrange to shadow or something like apprentice with an active trainer? Is there a training center or racetrack with horses there year round? People who condition multiple horses 365 days a year?

IMO you would absorb more in that situation then via talk or text…that is group of folks not known for outstanding communication skills.