What does a trainer do?

Hi all,

Please forgive these ignorant question. What does a race horse trainer do?

Also, does the jockey ride the horse all the time or is there another rider? Does the trainer decide on the exercise schedule, horse care, feed, etc? Do the riders have input or do they generally just do what the trainer says?

I understand that they have final responsibility over the horse as they are sanctioned for things like illegal substances found in the horse.

That said, what are the differences, do you think, in what the trainer of Rich Strike does versus someone like Bob Baffert, who seems to have multiple horses in training at once?

I just don’t know.

Thank you in advance if you can provide feedback to my confused self!

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From my limited observation, a track trainer is the boss of a string of horses (a “stable”) that could be owned by one person or by several different people, or by a syndicate group. The trainer may also own their own racehorses. The nontrainer owners typically don’t have day to day input into management. The trainer designs the training program, feeding program, all management, instructs the jockeys or exercise riders, and may also be an exercise rider. The trainer also chooses the races strategically, and decides when a horse is ready to retire or move up or go for rest, etc. The jockeys are hired for racing and take direction from the trainer.

The trainer hires the grooms and exercise riders that work with their group of horses, and I assume the jockeys as well, or at least has very strong input. They would likely advise the owners about purchases, and about selling horses, and about the strategies of things like claiming races.

Obviously there are trainers at all levels, from the Triple Crown elite level down to lower tier regional tracks. And they could have one, few, or many horses, depending on the economics of the situation and whether people want to place horses with them.

I’m sure the actual race trainers on this forum can add more details or correct me if I’m wrong!


Ohhhhhhhh, thanks!!

Just curious, on average, how often does the jockey ride the horse when the horse isn’t racing? How often does the exercise rider ride? I guess they are both in close contact with the Trainer about how things are going on a daily basis so the Trainer can make adjustments?

Thanks so much for your response! I’ve always wondered what a race horse trainer actually does. Most higher level trainers “look” like they don’t ride and I wonder how many of then have actually ridden. Or if riding experience isn’t that important when managing a race horse - maybe choosing the right staff and making the right plan is.


@Laurierace has trained race horses at the track. Not sure if she does anymore, but she could give you an idea of what’s involved.

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My understanding is that someone has to ride the horse regularly, which might be the trainer or the exercise rider. I don’t have first hand experience with this, but assume that the horse needs to get out and trot and canter and hand gallop most days of the week, and then work up to doing some sprints to build speed. And that there would be a thoughtful schedule for how to build stamina without exhausting a horse in the lead up to an actual race. Just like with all speed sports, like eventing.

My impression is that the jockey does not typically do exercise riding. Jockeys have a special skill set for winning races, and after you have worked your way up to jockey level, you have a lot of status in the race track world. I don’t know if they typically do trial rides before a race. But typically I think the jockeys would be riding in races quite regularly during a meet, in the afternoon and evening. While the exercise riders would be out in the morning doing a program with the horses that aren’t racing that day? The bar is high to become a jockey, folks work their way up. The bar is not nearly as high to become an exercise rider. They need to be strong riders with a lot of courage, but especially at smaller tracks, they are not always brilliant riders and they mostly are not on a course to become a jockeys, which requires a very small physique, and even today, is mostly men.

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Scribble explained a lot of it in terms of what the trainer does.

Regarding jockeys and exercise riding in the morning: it depends.

Most jockeys also ride horses in the morning, either regularly or occasionally.

Generally speaking, exercise riders are either employed by certain racing stables or work freelance for many different stables and do the bulk of the riding. They are the ones out jogging and galloping the horses to maintain regular fitness. They are sometimes getting on 8 or more horses a day.

Horses will “work” at racing speed periodically, and either an exercise rider or a jockey will be on them for those works. It might be the same jockey who rides the horse on race day, or maybe not. It all just kind of depends on a lot of factors.

Big name jockeys who have established themselves at the top of the sport (or as a leading rider at their track if they aren’t a household name) usually pick and choose what they want to do in the morning. The lesser known jockeys cutting their teeth are often out there before dawn jogging horses with everyone else.

At least that’s my experience.

Some trainers do ride racehorses. It’s a fair assessment that most don’t. Riding racehorses is about the most difficult thing you can do on horseback. I was pretty terrible at it myself.


Thanks for adding to my guesses! I do know one track trainer who rides her horses at the track, though I don’t know if she rides all the speeds. And she also hacks out and does arena work on her retired but also sometimes on her active race horses between seasons. She also owns and campaigns some of her own horses. I think she’s unusual in all this.

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It’s not unusual for a trainer to ride their own but it’s also not that common… if that makes sense. :rofl:

Larry Jones was a very prominent trainer and household name in the 00s. He is not a small guy but he got on everything himself. I just mention him because of how high profile he was.

Something I kind of omitted that I think needs to be cleared up: jockeys and exercise riders are not mutually exclusive. All jockeys got their start as exercise riders and most still do exercise riding in the morning. But when a jockey reaches the point where their afternoons are basically full with race riding, that’s when they start scaling back how much and what type of riding they are doing in the AM.


My experience is slightly different when it comes to jockeys riding in the mornings. The only time I see that is when it’s a really top horse and the jockey wants to make sure he keeps the ride. Even then, the jockeys are usually only on for breezing (about once a week) while an exercise rider is on the rest of the time.

Of course there are exceptions. New jockeys coming up will take every morning ride they can get. A BNJ once had a crush on my trainer’s assistant. He showed up every morning to ride (and to try and impress her). They later married, so it worked. :rofl:


Do they not need to politic as heavy in KY? Around here I always saw a lot of politicking.

Of course, it also depends on the caliber of the jockey. The good ones don’t need to do that. But everyone else…

I would say that there’s plenty of politicking here–more so by the jockeys’ agents than by the jockeys themselves–but it usually doesn’t involve riding horses in the mornings.

See, we’d get both. For example, one very large stable I worked for in PA, many who weren’t leading riders at the track would be trying to get an “in” and would approach us about riding in the morning.

Contrary to that, at a very small stable in MD, we paid a jockey (whoever was available) to do many of our breezes. That was not uncommon for stables of the same size. It was partly because we were dependent on a revolving freelance riders, but partly to keep a relationship with the jockeys, too, not being on anyone’s radar.

At the training center, there were many people who were licensed jockeys and rode races time and again, but not with much success, so they had to pay their bills somehow.

Now the ones who could pay their bills off race riding, you only saw those jocks when it suited them for the most part. :rofl:

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Just to throw in another side to what has already been said…
There are some jockeys that want to get in on a horse right from the get go.

Just one example…
Mike Smith, who most at least recognize his name, did many of the breezes on Hero Status leading up to his debut, which he was also the jockey.


How about grooms in the racing world? Same type of responsibilities as grooms in the dressage/HJ world? Come to find out last night, SO went to college with Jerry Dixon Jr, Rich Strikes groom.

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Our experience has been that all but the very smallest barns have regular exercise riders on salary. They gallop the horses every morning and some/most of them also ride well enough to breeze a horse.

Sometimes a jockey will breeze a horse for its final work before a start but only if it’s the jock who has the ride in the upcoming race (and usually they aren’t top tier jockeys unless you’re talking about a top tier race.)

“Normal” barns definitely have salaried exercised riders who handled the majority of the works everywhere I’ve been, too. And the majority of the people you see in the morning are salaried or freelance exercise riders.

I mean, I imagine if you looked at licenses there would probably easily be over a dozen licensed exercise riders for every one person who holds a jockey’s license around in the AM.

Regular exercise rider for the day-to-day track work, but when it comes time for published works, it is the jockey, and most times the one that will be getting the ride in the afternoon.
That being said, my other trainer, who hails from Ireland, will also hop on one or two if he is trying to figure the horse out. He was a very successful jump jockey in his homeland. He also has a jockey that rides for him every morning, and an exercise rider.

The groom does everything in horse care at the track. Including grooming, washing down, wrapping legs, tacking up. I think usually barns have a lower skill person to muck stalls, but grooms might end up doing that sometimes. I don’t know who feeds. There’s no owner riding a track horse so the groom does everything. I’d say it’s a higher responsibility job than in most riding horse barns. The groom may also do some hot walking, or there might be another person to do that. Track grooms get very good at managing stressed legs.


But not always, though. Exercise riders can do the published works, too. Or it can be a different jockey.

I think this thread is really interesting to see how different it can be stable to stable and locale to locale.

@Texarkana. Sorry, I should have clarified that this is what my one trainer does.

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