Thursday, December 31, 2009

Vet Exams, Soundness, and Horsemanship

Recent pic above courtesy of the Paulick Report who had a piece this week about the 2 year old star Looking at Lucky and how he was passed over at a Keeneland sale by many because of a bone chip showing up in his xrays.
With traditional subjective, qualitative measures - many failed to realize this one's potential. 'Horsemanship' became the cloudy reason for either taking a chance, or passing on this equine athlete.
In my book, 'horsemanship' would be defined as taking ALL AVAILABLE DATA in regards to the animal in question before deciding on whether or not said bone chip would be a problem in his future development.
Ideally, one could hook up this colt to a heart rate/GPS monitor during a gallop, take blood lactate measurements before/after/during the workout, and/or submit the horse to an easy treadmill workout to collect further data.
Comparing these objective and quantitative numbers against other 2 year olds gleaned from around the world could definitely help the Horseman pin down whether or not Looking at Lucky was worth the risk.
All of the above testing can be done for under $100 and could be the deciding factor that turns a $40 investment into a $40 million one.

That is quite a nice Return on Investment I would say!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Finally a top trainer gets the surface question right..

I've been saying in this space for nearly a year: You cannot maximize a horse's potential in the Derby by racing and training strictly on synthetics prior to the big day. You can still win the race if you have the best horse - Pioneer of the Nile came close, but it's FAR from an optimal scenario.

Witness Bob Baffert and Looking at Lucky:

Likely Eclipse winning 2 year old has won 5 of 6 starts out West, all on synthetics. He will be rested and then prepped twice before the first Saturday in May, but BOTH ON DIRT!

Thanks goodness BB has figured it out, training/racing this fantastic colt on synthetics at 2, then changing to dirt at 3. Let's hope he doesnt just ship East for the races, but holes up somewhere like CD with a dirt training surface.

I don't care which surface you prefer, I don't care which is safer for a horse (infrequent breezing will hurt 'em all) - all I care about is winning races.

Perhaps at some point a 'name' trainer will breeze 2x a week and win the big one - so the copycats will follow - then we'll see our breakdown percentage drop nationwide.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Thoroughbred interval training programs

Boy, oh boy - of everyone who finds their way to this blog via search engine, 90% are looking for info on specific interval training regimens. So here you go:

Great stuff from an old school trainer in Europe. Nothing like the Tom Ivers programs, which may be a little too much for today's thoroughbreds, in the USA anyway.

This is a nice intro to the IT concept - but I would certainly recommend a heart rate/GPS monitor to keep things safe. Of course, you can get those from me, just let me know if you are interested-


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Zenyatta's secret?

Trainer John Shirreff's was quoted mentioning that he feeds his horses in training SEVEN separate times a day, including superstar Zenyatta of course.

From a metabolic standpoint, all humans realize the key to athletic performance as far as nutrition is concerned is the consumption of several, small, well-balanced meals per day.

Nice to see a trainer doing the same for his equine athletes and realizing enormous success.

More on Mr. Shirreff's here:

Not to say that simply feeding twice as often as other trainers is the sole reason for his big Breeder's Cup winning double last weekend, but it sure helped.

That is the mission of ThoroEdge - help horsemen figure out several 'edges' that accumulate to a few extra lengths on raceday. Here's one for free-

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dr. Rick Arthur on Synthetics

From the New York Times:
"When racehorses are at their best, I am absolutely convinced they are safer on the synthetics than they are on dirt."

Let's say you agree with that statement, I probably do.
But there is a qualifier - 'when racehorses are at their best' how exactly can we figure this out?

Collect reams of data, that's how. Chart heart rate response, body weight, gallop speed, blood chemistry, etc. like a madman; organize the data, and draw your own conclusions.

The racing industry has the subjective data from trainers, owners, grooms, exercise riders, to name a few - down pat. Too much info in many cases, probably.

But they typically ignore a huge part of the puzzle, what is going on inside the horse?
How much oxygen/fuel does it take for him to breeze a half in :49 this week? Next week?

Charted over time, is he reaching an all time peak, or is he flattened out?
Don't wait for several race results to tell you, learn from the training stimulus.

What can you add prior to his gallops to make them easier (i.e. faster speeds with less oxygen necessary)? A food supplement, a different warm up routine, equipment change, rider change, Equissage treatment, acupuncture, HBOT?

Each stable should be treated like its own exercise physiology laboratory - constantly changing variables in order to find the optimal conditioning protocol for each individual, all backed up by quantitative and objective data.

Just my two cents, please call me if you are at the Keeneland sales this month and would like to meet face to face.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Shocking wins Melbourne Cup

The name certainly fits as that was his SECOND WIN IN 4 DAYS!!

You read that correctly, Shocking captured the $5 million Cup on Tuesday - after winning his 'tune-up' race over weekend just prior.

Says his trainer Mark Kavanagh: "He was so good on Saturday and he improved since that run, his preparation was timed to perfection."

Boy, do I agree.

Good to see that some places still train/race like the olden days. I have another post in here somewhere that indicates ancedotally that Australia also has the lowest occurrence of fatal breakdowns.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Zenyatta's latest work

Details above courtesy of Jay Privman at DRF regarding Zenyatta's strong effort Friday morning at Hollywood Park.

Of note the timed work was 6F in 1:11.2 which was the best of 10 at that distance by a full second. But notice the final comments where she gallops out a full mile in 1:39 which doesn't maket the official published worktab of course.

Interesting to see her trainer comment that he was more aggressive in order to keep open the option that she may enter the Classic rather than the Distaff, or Ladies Classic. He mentioned were she pointed specifically towards the Distaff she would have simply coasted in with a few 'maintenance' works.

Very cool insight into the mind of the trainer of a superstar, willing to go a bit tougher on the conditioning with the prospect of the toughest race of her life, the first against boys, coming up in a few weeks.

Wonderful approach, in my opinion.

But can you do that same work on dirt?
Remember my data has shown the surface to be as much as 50% harder on some cheap claimers than the artifical stuff...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Equine Exercise Physiology Seminar upcoming

Hello friends-

A great group of presenters is coming together in early December at Rutgers University in NJ for some very applicable info on HR/GPS tracking and lactate testing and how it can help you make your horses faster.

Below I will attach the specifics please let me know if you are interested in attending and I will get you some additional details. Thanks!-

This course will be conducted December 4-6, 2009 at Rutgers University, New Brunswick New Jersey in conjunction with FaCT Education of British Columbia Canada and Racehorse Conditioning Systems Inc. of Albrightsville Pennsylvania.

Presentation and discussion topics will include:

* Finding a deeper understanding of aerobic (oxygen dependent) and anaerobic (oxygen independent) muscle fiber development…it’s not rocket science.

* We’ll discuss the new understanding of lactate as potential fuel source for working muscles, and how we can use lactate information to help test fitness and set training intensities.

* You will learn simple and safe testing methods for measuring lactate and understanding the Lactate Balance Point (LBP) system.

* You will be introduced to quick and easy tests you can periodically perform to help measure fitness, with easy to use software specifically designed to help with data interpretation. You will have the foundation for creating your own performance-line tests. These “Fit-Lines” are valuable tools for more in-depth evaluation of a horse’s overall development.

* You will learn more about when, why, how and how often to monitor a racehorse’s heart rate. You will also learn about the newest technology in measuring speed, and use this in combination with the horse’s heart rate information.

* Transferring the information to your computer for in-depth analysis can be easy. Youwill learn about the Polar Heart Rate Monitor System, The Lactate Pro Analyzer and FaCT software. We will discuss how to build an inexpensive and portable, testing lab using these tools.

* Other topics of discussion:
The Central Governor Model for Racehorse Performance
Resistance Conditioning
Glycogen Depletion / Refueling
Spleen Dumping.

Course Conductor:

Dr. Andrew Sellars M.D. is the director of FaCT-Education and Head Coach for the Balance Point Racing Team. His recent work has led to the development of the equine equivalent of the FaCT Lactate Balance Point test, which has over the past 20 years revolutionized training programs for human athletes.

Course Counselors:

Karyn Malinowski PhD is Director of Rutgers Equine Science Center. Karyn is also a racehorse owner, trainer and driver.

Ken McKeever PhD is renowned as one of the top racehorse exercise physiologists in the US. He takes a very layperson approach.


Friday December 4, 2009:
5pm to 9pm - Lecture and Classroom Discussion at Equine Science Center Conference room.

Saturday December 5, 2009:
7:30am Continental breakfast at the University Inn.
9:00am to 11:30am - On track LBP field test at Gaitway Farm.
12:30pm - Working lunch at Rutgers.
1pm to 5pm - Field test LBP evaluations and group discussions.
7pm - Group Dinner and discussions (Location TBD).

Sunday December 6, 2009:
7:30am – Continental breakfast at the University Inn
8:30am to 1pm LBP/Treadmill Testing at Rutgers and group discussions.
1 - 2pm - Concluding discussion
2pm - Departure

Whether you train 2 or 200 horses you will gather practical ideas for day to day applications.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Heart rate variability and soundness

Above is an enhanced image of an EKG where one can calculate the variability of time between individual heart beats in a thoroughbred. Heart Rate Variability, or HRV, is important because the greater the variability - the more control the nervous system exhibits, which is a good thing.
Recently there was published a wonderful article about this concept, drawing conclusions between HRV and catastrophic breakdowns in eventing horses:
The cool thing is that you don't need fancy, lab quality EKG equipment to get these figures, the HR/GPS monitors I use cost just $599, set up in seconds, and analyze this information for you.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

HR tracking in Real Time

Finally, the technology is here!-
When I first started showing my services to trainers, the first question was - So I can sit here with a laptop and watch my horses heart rate and gallop speed in real time? Uh, unfortunately the answer was no. But no longer....

Polar has released the Team2 system, which allows you to outfit several horses with HR gear simultaeously, then send them out on the track and watch how they respond on your laptop.

How does this help us?

Most importantly, we can send out a string of horses for similar workouts, even in company, and gauge their fitness levels immediately. In the image above for instance, there is a 'red' horse and a 'blue' one riding side by side.
Every step of the way, the red horse exhibits lower heart rate/exertion levels than the blue - even though to the naked eye they appear to be physiological equals.
Imagine a farm doing this with their 30 yearlings in an exercise wheel, the true racing specimens would literally jump off the page-
(the above pic was from a human case, which explains the low heart rate data, Rutgers University to this date has the only equine version, I should have mine in the next few weeks - I will then FLOOD you guys with examples)

Monday, August 24, 2009

upcoming Lexington, KY presentation

Thanks to the great folks at the Kentucky Equine Management Internship, namely Leslie Janecka, I have been invited to speak at Gluck Auditorium on the Univ. of Kentucky campus in Lexington on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009 at 6pm.

If anyone would like to attend or receive a summary of the evening, please contact me and I will make arrangements if possible.

Topics will include most of what has appeared on this blog over the past year, with a big focus on using physiological testing to grade sales stock.

Afterwards, I will get back to some more regular postings in this space hopefully.

Look for a reprint of my Optimal Conditioning article in the next European Trainer magazine, which I believe is released in early September.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Thoroughbred Interval Training

By far these 3 words are the leading keywords searched for by people who eventually land on my blog. I have written a short piece on the subject in the past, but now I see the need for more detailed info.

If you have any specific areas of interval training that you would like to see addressed here, please leave notes in the 'comment' section.

I should have a more complete blog entry on the subject within the next week or so.

Monday, August 10, 2009

August in Florida

Anyone reading this blog from the great state of FL, please be aware I will be in central/eastern Florida for the majority of August, starting tomorrow - please get in touch with me if you would like to get together.

Did anyone catch the Niagra Equissage saddle on MinethatBird from the ESPN Million broadcast?

How about NY outlawing hyperbaric oxygen treatments the week before a race? Interesting.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Heart rate, velocity, and the breeding game

Below is a copy of a letter I sent to a leading farm here in Lexington that spurred them to action, producing very good results to the bottom line, in terms of identifying foals with higher than average racing potential:

Dear Breeder-

Pedigree, conformation, biomechanics, heart score, etc. are facts and figures put on paper meant to predict future thoroughbred performance.

But races are run on the track, not on paper.

Physiological testing of your foals provides you with an inside glimpse of how efficiently all of the horse’s systems work together during the stresses of actual exercise.

You can now rate your foals on athletic performance based on data gathered from real life sub-maximal training.

For instance, here is one example of the data generated by heart rate and GPS monitoring:

V200 is the velocity/speed achieved at a heart rate of 200bpm (beats per minute) and is indicative of the aerobic capacity of the thoroughbred.

This aerobic capacity is a measurement of the foal’s ability to utilize oxygen to fuel exercise demands, higher speeds at V200 will lead to better racing performance.

Research has given us the following values for V200 in thoroughbred foals:

· V200 range for foals at 6 months of age:
8.51mph to 11.93mph

· V200 range for foals at 1 year:
9.94mph to 13.24mph

· V200 range at start of yearling race training:
11.93mph to 14.91mph

How do your equine athletes match up?
Which are the future racing stars?
Which are at risk of lameness?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Grade 1 success with heart rate training

Hello again-

A guy I know in Australia is doing fantastic work with his Etrakka heart rate/GPS training device. So fantastic in fact, that one of his charges recently won a Grade One event.

Better yet, he has provided the actual heart rate vs speed chart from the week prior to this huge victory - results that prompted the trainer to enter the horse when he had originally been thinking of races further in the future.

But, when they are peaking you run them, every horseman knows that - the difference is this time the peak was scientifically discovered: making it a concrete fact, not an opinion.

Much more info at:

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Trainer Magazine article coming out July 09

Yours truly above at Churchill fitting up a mare with my Polar heart rate/GPS device, using a new belt that is much easier to work with and manage. On my left wrist is the watch that the rider wears, and on my upper arm is the GPS unit, which the rider also wears.

Not much time to post lately, but I have been working on a big piece for North American Trainer Magazine,, that is to be published in July. Lots of the blog stuff will be covered in there, with some more pics from my work in Louisville/Lexington over the past few years.

Your thoughts and feedback will be much appreciated, thanks-

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Should Rachel Run?

Why does this have to be such a difficult question?
Because all the data used to decide is both subjective and qualitative in nature, that's why.

How does she look? How does she act? Are her legs tight? Are her ears perked? 
Is she cleaning out the feed tub? Is she better than before the Preakness? 
Better than before the Oaks? How did she look at her half mile breeze?

Listen, all of that stuff is important - but it's only half of the puzzle. The other half is based in exercise physiology. The objective, quantitative stuff is missing from this picture in all stables.

In the simplest of terms, how much blood (fuel) does it take for her to complete a 2 mile gallop, or a half mile breeze? How quickly does her heart get back down to 80bpm after that fast work? Compare her data during this weeks workouts to before/after her other races and get some meaningful numbers.

V200, described in this blog elswhere, is the velocity traveled when the horse's heart rate hits 200bpm. For those of Rachel's caliber, that number is around 30mph. This gives you a number over time that can show you when she is peaking, peaked, or ready to bounce - wouldn't you like to have that information?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Genius of Calvin Borel

Man, how can you not love this guy?

Humble in victory, mowing his lawn the day before the Preakness, back at Churchill riding claimers the day after Rachel's victory, etc.

I've seen him in person a few times this meet at Churchill, and he acts no different after his last 2 big wins as he did before. Class act.

Now onto the 3 things I've seen that lead me to believe this guy is even better than his win record indicates.

Number one is simple and well known, he chooses the rail trip when at all possible, as its the shortest way around the track, everyone knows this about him.

Number two: I have observed him adding a quarter mile strong gallop out to nearly every work in the mornings. Maybe he was told to do so by the trainer, but I doubt it because he was pretty consistent regardless of who he was riding. He makes 6F timed works actually 1 mile in length, 4f breezes become 6f, and so on.

Finally, on many occassions I see him break away from the lead pony and vigorously warm his horses up in the post parade. He's on the backstretch after a quarter mile gallop in 30sec or so while everyone else is still walking. Then he allows his mount to jog, walk, and calm down prior to loading in the gate. Brilliant. Of course he may not do this on the big stage with 50 TV cameras on him - because some would think he was crazy. 

When he does this the spleen of the horse contracts, and brand new red blood cells are introduced into the bloodstream, ready to carry oxygen to muscles during the race. All other un-warmed up horses accomplish this within the first furlong when the race is underway, but Calvin has already bought himself some extra time until fatigue with his pre-race routine.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Preakness picks based on synthetic to dirt prep angle

Mine That Bird (MTB), at right looking very comfortable with the attention at Pimlico this week, good for him.

The biggest finding I've made using my heart rate and GPS gear with thoroughbreds in training is the huge difference between works on dirt vs works on synthetic. To simplify, works on dirt are 50% harder on most horses - i.e. a 4F breeze on dirt takes as much out of a horse as does a 6F breeze on the fake stuff. 

As long as the Triple Crown races are run on dirt, it is my belief that you MUST prep your horses on dirt tracks, as the number one rule in exercise physiology is that of Specificity, you get what you train for. 

I liked Papa Clem and Friesan Fire for my Derby picks because they spent time on both surfaces. FF trained much at Keeneland and raced on dirt, Clem raced on poly early, switching to dirt over the past few months. MTB did the same with his 2 year old season spent at Woodbine before hitting the NM dirt trail, but I overlooked it because of his previous high Beyer of  just 80.

As far as talent goes, of course Rachel Alexandra and Pioneer of the Nile are at the top of the list and can't be discounted. I think POTN will get better through these 3 first dirt races of his life this spring, but I don't see him in the money. 

Preakness selections: Rachel on talent, Clem on superior work tab, Friesan Fire stays out of trouble for 3rd, with MTB lurking behind.

Ran out of room to talk about what I saw with Borel in a starter allowance race at CD last week, next post I promise. 

Also this week in DRF we found a great piece about the different training practices of someone like Jack Van Berg and Gary Stute. Needless to say I favor Stute, and I hope to be able to explain why in this space shortly...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

One filly, 6 days, 2 wins

Congrats to the connections, you know who you are!-

4 year old filly, two allowance-level wins at 2 different tracks within the same week - the second one easier than the first, never being touched with the whip.

Goes to show that you can buck tradition, train/race a bit differently, and get great results.

Next post analyzes the synthetic to dirt pre-Derby routine of Mine That Bird throughout the past year and also an in person look at the genius of Mr. Calvin Borel, genius that has nothing to do with the rail trip.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Derby picks based on equine exercise physiology

For those of you who don't know, I monitor the heart rate and gallop/breeze speed using equipment like in the above photo: a heart rate monitor and GPS unit. Much more info elsewhere in this blog and at my website at

With the horses I consult, I can often tell when they are ready to run in the money, or finish up the track, based on the data I collect. Unfortunately, I have no such numbers on this year's Derby contenders.

But I have learned some things that help me handicap. 

First of all, a complete warmup helps, but likely none this year will break from the pony during the post parade and gallop out a strong sub :30 second quarter - so cancel out that factor in 2009. 

Secondly, horses going over synthetics have it much easier than on dirt, as much as 50% easier. Therefore synthetic races and works don't compare apples to apples with those on dirt. Ideally there would be a mix of both, as in the case with Friesan Fire, who is my first choice.

Thirdly, I love the pre-race blowout for many reasons enumerated elsewhere. As of this moment, only one Papa Clem trained by Gary Stute, has done so correctly in my opinion. He is my second choice.

We all use Beyers and other factors to handicap. Talent often wins out over the stuff above. For this reason I like I Want Revenge in my third slot. Unfortunately, I don't think our boy Mr. Mullins will be able to sneak in the pre-race Air Power bronchiole-dilating treatment on such a large stage. 

Of the others: 

I liked WestSide Bernie, but he hasn't looked his best this week on the backside. I liked Chocolate Candy going a mile at CD this week, but everything else is Synthetic City. The Godolphin entries are tough to gauge, as nothing is really public knowledge over in the desert. If they have been gettting synthetic breezes I would certainly consider. Pioneer of the Nile is also unproven on the surface. Count me among all those who like the backstory of General Quarters. Dunkirk is possibly the most talented, but so lightly trained. 

Good luck to all, and any trainers out there give me a shout to see if I can help get you to the big dance in 2010.

To summarize: 1. Friesan Fire 2. Papa Clem 3. I Want Revenge

1pm Sat:
After late scratch, revise 3rd pick to Dunkirk, lots of breezes shorter than I would like, but all on dirt, and seems to be peaking at right time.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rachel Alexandra's fantastic work explained

I was on the backside at Churchill Monday morning for the Derby and Oaks works. This is the day of both the horrible training accident and the spectacular work by Rachel Alexandra, and these 2 events are definitely related.

Rachel, with Calvin Borel up, had just finished her warm up and was preparing to roll into her breeze when the horn sounded signifying a loose horse. With the workout aborted, Borel took her back to the barn for about 15-20 minutes, kept her moving, then brought her back out when the coast was clear. 

Then she blew through a half in :46 and change on her way to galloping out 6F in 1:10 - all looking incredibly easy with no urging. No wonder:


Sorry, I never go 'all caps' but this is very important. In the hurry to get all horses trained between 6-10am, none are ever warmed up properly. Rolling into a half mile breeze after a steady 1 mile gallop is not sufficient. 

Yes the muscles and such are warmed up decently, but the nervous system isn't yet firing at it's best. In addition, her spleen has been contracted prior to the breeze, which flushes her system with fresh oxygen carrying red blood cells BEFORE the exercise bout, not during.

But, add in a 15 minute rest period after this 1 mile gallop - while walking and staying active, and you give the all important nervous system, think eye/brain/foot coordination, time to reset and efficiency increases. You can probably get just as much good out of a 5 minute rest/walk bout - you don't even have to leave the track necessarily.

I realize that the economics of the training game prevent doing this on all of your stock, but surely you can practice this with your top contenders, right? It takes extra time, and a smart rider, but the results can be worth millions, hell why not do this in the post parade before a huge race? You are getting 2 sec faster per half mile, with less effort-

I mean, this was universally regarded as a work befitting a Derby champion, never mind the Oaks. The trainer, Wiggins, wanted her to go the half in :48 - she beat that by 2 seconds and rolled off another :24 quarter to boot. 

I can illustrate with my HR/GPS gear this concept. After the post warm up rest period - any half mile will go faster, with less effort, than the traditional manner. People need to understand, if you want to get results better than everyone else, you have to train differently. Not harder, just with an eye towards proven exercise science. 

Otherwise, it's just a matter of who has the best stock.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Where have I been? Where am I now?

Again, sorry for the lack of recent posts, I am looking forward to getting back in the mix after Derby next week.

Speaking of the big race, I will be all over the frontside and backside at Churchill Downs for the entire Spring Meet, including Oaks and Derby days of course.

I'd really enjoy meeting any and all readers of this blog, please feel free to drop me an email or give me a call if you are in town - perhaps we can fit one of my horses up with the HR/GPS monitor and run through a very detailed training analysis!

Bill Pressey

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Air Power and Performance?

Sorry for the lack of recent posts, been busy at my 'day' job and traveling a bit.

Mr. Mullins busted administering the above to his horse pre-race at Aqueduct. Of course he is also the trainer of the superstar I Want Revenge, who I think we can assume gets the same pre-race treatment - although it would never be admitted to.

Forget for the moment that pre-race administration of anything other than Lasix is forbidden. Clowns like myself even know those rules that Mullins pleads ignorance of. When asked "Why give cough medicine to a horse without a cough?" he replied with the gem: "Why put socks on your feet?" Whatever the hell that means. 

This reminds me of a discussion I had in Lexington over the wintertime with 2 famous vets. We were discussing bronchodilation, or opening up of the small airwaves in the lungs, and its positive effect on performance. Both of these guys mentioned a product being used that was accomplishing this effect, but neither would mention the name of said product. 

Could this be it? Administered so close to race time for a horse with no cough seems suspicious to me.

The company that makes Air Power calls itself Finish Line products, which insinuates you take the stuff and win races, right? To be fair it's labelled as all natural, and if that proves to be the case they are cool in my book. But on the human side, which is probably more highly regulated by the FDA, many supplements marketed as natural at GNC have since been banned by the major sports leagues after more detailed testing. 

Stay tuned on this one...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

How FIT is your horse?

Sorry for the lack of recent posts, things have been hectic here since the weather has started to cooperate.

V200 is the speed, or velocity, that your horse is travelling when his/her heart rate hits 200 beats per minute. Many studies worldwide have correlated this number with racing performance and earning potential. It's amazing that studies in Japan, Australia, Europe, and the US all exhibit similar findings.

Now a disclaimer, horses are skittish and their heart rates are not always indicative of their level of conditioning. Some horses heart rates settle to an accurate number within seconds, others take a few minutes. So, it's not as simple as checking your GPS for speed when you see the heart rate hit 200. To be accurate, it takes some collecting of data and graphing tools. 

I think we can all agree that faster is better. If we can pinpoint an intensity level of exercise, let's say 85% of maximum, then the faster a horse can travel, the fitter he is. V200 is based on a maximum heart rate of 230 - but your horse may differ and need adjustments - it's a bit of work to find this out. 

Anyway, to the meat of the post:

V200(mph) class

under 20 not fit enough to compete safely
20-22 struggling to break maiden
22-24 $10k claimer
24-25 $25k claimer
26-27 allowance level
28-30 stakes level
30+ graded stakes performer

Some notes to add here: 
These figures are from dirt tracks and collected during gallops slower than 2 minute licks.
The longer the race, the more these numbers mean. A true sprinter at 5.5F can outperform his V200 easier than a miler, for instance. 
While comparing V200 across different horses is certainly valid, the real benefit is comparing V200 numbers over time in each individual. If V200 is moving up, that is good - moving backwards is bad. 
You can see from the above, that very small changes in V200 can mean the difference between a money losing horse and a big time earner.

Perhaps most importantly, when you know V200 - you can determine Ideal Gallop Paces that elicit the best conditoning effects, more on that next post. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Trakus technology in horse racing

Check out the above image from a company called Trakus. They place a small transmitter inside of the saddle cloth prior to the race, then track the horse around the track in real time. Very cool. I've also seen them include speeds in mph during the race as well. 

Using heart rate as a measure of exercise intensity, imagine how including that data could be helpful to the handicapper:

How intense is the warm up? Is the splenic contraction elicited?
How quickly can a horse reach his/her maximum HR leaving the gate?
During the gallop out, who recovers the fastest to below 100bpm?
What is the maximum speed? How long is it held?

If you could add this physiological data to other past performance info and note trends over time, you could pinpoint quite a bit about each individual's actual athletic ability - and note when a peak, or a bounce, is likely to happen.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Dirt vs Synthetic surfaces and training intensity

Sorry for the lack of posting recently, but still fighting off the effects of the flu.

I have to preface what follows by stating I only have limited data on polytrack training sessions at Keeneland, but the findings seem to be startling.

Concerning horses yet to break their maidens, I've charted many half mile breezes on dirt during training and heart rate recoveries are typically around 80%. Heart rate recovery is defined as how closely the profile hits 120bpm and 80bpm and 2 and 5 min post breeze. 

However, I see the same HR recovery profile for maidens on polytrack at 6 furlongs! What that tells me is horses going over the polytrack are stressed as much as 50% less than going on dirt.

Anecdotally, it seems west coast based trainers do more 6F and longer breezes compared to east coast trainers. But with the intro of more polytrack training tracks to the KY area, local trainers might need to consider lengthening their breeze sesssions in order to get the same conditioning effect.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ice Storm 2009

Sorry for the lack of recent posts, but I've been a bit under the weather with what appears to be the flu. Should be back to work in the next few days, let's hope.

Above is a pic from last month's ice storm, that is my front yard, not the patio, not the driveway, the actual grass. We had at least 20 power lines and 100 trees down within one block of where we live. Luckily, we were only without power for a few hours.

We had 30 hours of freezing rain in one stretch, the worst storm in the history of the area. Missed 18 training days in January of this year BEFORE the storm above, unbelievable.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Training and Conditioning: Humans vs Horses

Some in my field make the generalization: You can train horses just like you train humans and get better results. Yes and no in my opinion, there are some similarities - but some major differences.

All living beings; greyhounds, camels, rats, horses, humans, etc. obey the laws of exercise physiology. 

One such principle is the law of specificity, or you get what you train for. Train long and slow for an endurance athlete, train with faster, shorter bursts for a sprinter. 

Another is the law of individuality, which means each trainee responds at his individual pace. That is the key with ThoroEdge Equine Performance, treating each horse as an individual. Big time trainers can shoe horn every horse into their regimen, and when some get hurt they are shuffled out and replaced with new, quality, stock. It's more of a marketing/networking game for them. I'm not being critical, that's just their business model. Everyone else must take more care.

Now the biggest difference: humans can train through fatigue and get stronger, horses that train when excessively fatigued get injured and breakdown. The managment of fatigue in the equine is another major function of my company, ThoroEdge. 

Another difference is one I love to explain to my clients, or anyone else who will listen, like you guys. Consider: let's call the human standard of excellence the 4 minute mile, and the equine equivalent we'll call the 12 second furlong, for simplicity's sake.

ALL throughbred horses in the racing game are born and bred able to run a 12 second furlong pretty quickly, it's in their nature. Some can never run more than 1 or 2, others get up to 12 - we call them Secretariat. Humans are never born able to run a 4 minute mile, some lucky ones may first be able to run a 7 minute mile, then they train/grow to a 6:45, 6:15, etc. The vast majority never make it to the 4 minute goal, but the elite do.

So my point is, in training a horse you have to be very careful not to let the outsides outrun the insides. The outsides being the muscles and horsesense, the insides being the lungs, blood, enzymes, soft tissues, nervous system, etc. Humans naturally have to go through this process, but horses can trick you into believing they are ready for more if you just rely on visual observations. 

If any reader has an idea for a future post, maybe it's something I have some info on, let me know in the comment section and I'll fire it on up. Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thoroughbred exercising with EPM

Notice huge differences between this chart and the previous post regarding a stakes winner. This is a half mile breeze in a $15,000 claimer where her maximum heart rate reaches 201bpm, far below her normal mark of 221bpm. Also there is no clear peak of HR with speed, rather a flat response with early rise of HR before strenuous effort - and poor recovery after the breeze ends.

Now, I cannot tell the difference between poor fitness and/or illness or injury - but in this case we knew she had won over $100,000 in her career and was reasonably fit, but suddently couldn't break from the gate or make more than a middling move.

Confusing, never dead last, but middle of the pack with $12,500 claimers at Churchill, and middle of the pack with the $5000 crowd at Hoosier. Her exercise rider could find nothing amiss, great. 

Her training center is in a very rural area, and knowing that EPM is commonly transmitted by wild animals like possums, we order a blood test. No EPM here. Probably need a spinal tap, but that seems a lot of trouble. So we start her on EPM meds anyway with the owner's blessing.

Voila, 3 weeks later, with very little training due to weather, she wins a 6F effort by 3 easy lengths, at this point she is halfway through her medication. Another 3 weeks pass by, another win at 6.5F, this time by nearly 5 lengths with nary a touch of the whip.

I realize that EPM is commonly overdiagnosed as a reason for poor performance, but in this case the 6 week medication for the disease improved this mare a whopping 2.5 seconds in a 6F race, or approx. 12 lengths!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Stakes-level horse during a 6 furlong breeze:

X-axis is elapsed time.
Y-axes are heart rate in red, pace in blue.
Red line is heart rate response over workout.
Blue line is gallop speed over workout.

Above is a heart rate vs gallop speed chart of one of the best horses I've had the chance to monitor in 2008. This former $7500 claimer won a stakes races this season and had several other nice wins, always in the money over 13 starts.

His trainer wasn't afraid of hard work, as the chart above is from a 6 furlong breeze from the gate at Churchill in 1:15. His heart rate recovery is great for such a big piece of work on a hard surface, under 120bpm within 2min and under 100bpm within 5min post breeze. 

Now, before you say that 1:15 for 6 isn't a great time, this was from a gated start, which adds a few seconds to the time compared to rolling starts most often favored by trainers.

A common exercise day for this gelding was 2 separate 1 mile repetitions separated by a 2-3 min recovery interval. The first mile would go in about 2:15, the second more like 1:50.

Next up, a post with a chart like the one above from a horse suffering from EPM - you will note the vast differences. Post after that will compare workload/stress during a breeze over dirt vs polytrack, some big suprises there too.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Michael Dickinson, creator of Tapeta

Mr. Dickinson called me one day several months back, he had seen some info on what I was doing online, and was gracious enough to call and offer his support. I was honored to hear from him.

On the subject of heart rate and surfaces, I just found this quote from him during the famous training job he did with Da Hoss in the Breeder's Cup, which shows how far ahead of the game he was back in the late 90's with the development of his synthetic surface, Tapeta:

When the horses canter daily their heart rate gets up to 200 or 210,” Dickinson said. “If I worked them at 200 to 210 on a dirt track, they’d break down in little time.”

Bleeding (EIPH), Lasix and synthetics

Anything like bleeding from the lungs is a complicated issue. There are surely many factors that contribute to its cause, such as: training intensity/frequency, surface, drugs, and the specific structures of the equine respiratory system. 

One thing we can point to is the use of Lasix. It's only allowed in America, and we also seem to be the world leader in EIPH. Of course we also race year round and often times do so on dirt. Because of the nature of the game, horses rarely get any exercise in the aerobic heart rate zone at most US training centers.

Other countries forbid Lasix, have shorter racing seasons, and spend much time training on turf. In addition, horses spend much more time exercising, a lot of that slow gallop work taking place at the appropriate intensity level for aerobic development. 

Very preliminary findings on my part show that in terms of the stress put on a breezing thoroughbred, 6 furlongs on polytrack is equal to 4 furlongs on dirt. Big difference. If indeed, the respiratory system fails to respond to training, as many experts believe, then training/racing over dirt year round is bound to be a leading factor.

So, how can you attempt to prevent bleeding? 

First of all, just because your horse isn't gushing blood from his nostrils after a work doesn't mean he's not bleeding. Ruptures of sacs deep within the lungs probably take place quite often when travelling over a hard surface, and this accumulates over time. Aerobic work in the 70-80% intensity zone can help the horse form more capillaries that will aid in decreasing blood pressure and mitigate some of this damage.

Secondly, try to keep the stable environment as dust free as possible, which probably goes without saying. Thirdly, if you have access to one, expose the horse post breeze to some hyperbaric chamber treatments where the increased oxygen delivery can help speed the repair process deep within the lungs. 

Most importantly, follow a structured progressive plan like the one in another post on bucked shins. Taking 15 small steps from legging up to racing is better than taking 5 huge ones. The more stress/recovery cycles you can hit perfectly, the better off you are.

In a perfect world, every horse would have access to pools, treadmills, turf, poly, dirt and be able to cross-train much like humans. The mechanics of running on each surface are different, like hitting a curve ball in baseball - some can do it from birth, others need to practice. Dirt will build stronger bones, but you will always be on the knife-edge for injury. Synthetics will build stronger soft tissues like suspensories, but bone density may very well suffer a bit.

Don't let Lasix do all of this work for you, fine tune the training process in order to be able to use Lasix as an edge on raceday (if your country allows it), not just as a survival tool-

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Training to avoid bucked shins

Still one of the most searched-for topics around, according to my website/blog keyword search statistics. Historically, many barns seem to experience shin problems in 2 year olds from 30-50% of the time, some operations these days tell me it's more like 10%. 

Once again, I find the answer in exercise science and the concept of progressive overload. Simply put, legging up style long slow gallops build 'gallop' bone, while breezes at :15sec/furlong and faster build 'breeze' bone. If you immediately jump from 2 months of gallop that never got faster than :15sec/f directly to breezes in :13 or faster, you often run into trouble.

The above protocol from Dr. Jack Woolsey is his adaptation of the famous Maryland shin study of Dr. Nunamaker (of New Bolton Center fame) and trainer/vet Dr. Fisher (currently at Fair Hill I believe). These guys are sharp. 

To pare down their research to the basics; they noticed that horses who only slow galloped failed to build strong bone density and were at increased risk for saucer fractures. But when 'speed' work was slowly and gradually introduced as stated above, not only did the shin problems disappear, but the 2 year olds developed the bone density of 4 year olds! 

The key is to add speed very slowly - starting with a single :15 furlong at the end of 2 weekly gallops and progressing to a half mile breeze in :52 roughly 16 weeks later. 

They also addressed the issue of frequency. Whenever the 'speed' work took place more than 5 days apart, the bone began to lose the remodelling effect. Now bone is by all accounts the slowest system of the horse to respond to training, but it still does so in less than 5 days if stimulated appropriately. 

More ammunition to my belief that when you breeze horses every 6-10 days, you often lose much of the cumulative fitness effect in between works. If bone adapts and recovers every 4 days, how fast does the heart, lungs, suspensories, blood, enzymes, etc. recover? Within 2-3 days is a safe bet.

I could write 15 pages on this, and I have much more info from Drs. Nunamaker and Fisher, drop me a line if you would like to see it...

Friday, February 6, 2009

Interval Training the Thoroughbred

Whoa, huge topic here. I want to start by saying there are a million things to look at in any training program BEFORE even thinking about interval training. Most modern day equine athletes will make huge strides without IT. Most of all, it must be taken into consideration the effect of the IT structure on the psychological fitness of the horse. Not all are tough enough, but by many accounts, some are.

Many trainers these days will automatically tell you: "I tried IT (interval training) years ago, it doesn't work." Well, odds are they did it wrong. There are a million ways to implement IT, but only one of them is right, and everyone has a different definition of what interval training actually entails. 

First off, if you experimented with IT by first adding another repetition to a breeze, you did it wrong. Similarly, if you are a 'one breeze every 7-10 days' guy and you try to add intervals, you are playing with fire - get your breeze frequency down to every 3-5 days first. 

Secondly, if you added an IT session to a workout in which you couldn't quantify recovery HR from the first repetition, you did it wrong.

Thirdly, IT doesn't mean you train 3 separate sessions per day, necessarily.

IT can work, it can also break down a horse. It's all in the individual. IT should start with gallops, not breezes. 

For instance, when a horse can complete a one mile gallop in 3 minutes and show a recovery heart rate under 100bpm within 2 minutes while walking on the track to cool down, then you can safely add another 1 mile in 3 minutes second interval. When recovery HR after that 2nd interval meets the same criteria, under 100bpm within 2 minutes, you can add a 3rd. When recovery is sufficient for all 3 intervals, then you go back to one mile in 2:45, etc.

Personally, I've never gone past 2 reps, but I know Tom Ivers surely did so with great success, unfortunately most conventionally trained horses today don't possess the foundation to support such a workload. His book, The Fit Racehorse II, gives every detail you could possibly need on IT structure.

So much more goes into the IT question, too much to post here, but surely you get the idea - it's all about giving the horse enough appropriate stress/recovery cycles to foster development.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Rune Haugen, using science to train winning thoroughbreds

Ok, we know why HR/GPS monitoring can help win more races and keep your horses sounder, we even know that world leading thoroughbred operation Coolmore uses this stuff at Ballydoyle under trainer Aidan O'Brien, but here is a first person account of exactly HOW a modern racing stable can integrate the technology and the science in real life.

Rune Rules in Norway, courtesy of Polar Equine

A former jockey, Rune Haugen has been an extremely successful thoroughbred-trainer the recent years. Champion trainer at the Norwegian racetrack Øvrevoll three years in a row, Derby-victory, several wins in gr-3 races in Scandinavia and numerous other high-class races makes him one of the top trainers in Scandinavia. The secret behind his success? Controlling and evaluating every part of his horse's training routines. Haugens most important training remedy is Polar’s GPS heart rate monitor.

Total turn-around

- At “Stall Nor” one top-bred horse after the other broke down and never even made it to the races. The owners were obviously frustrated, and contacted Sæterdal. He transferred human training principles to the horses at “Stall Nor”. He controlled the horses training doses by using heart rate monitors. Within months, the negative trend had turned. The injury-rate fell drastically and the horses started to win races, says Haugen, not mentioning his own important role in the turning process. He was hired as the new trainer at the stable, thus responsible for putting Sæterdals training principles into practice.

Heart rate monitors, lactate- and muscle enzyme-tests are the aids I use to control my horses work-out routines, Rune Haugen explains.

- A heart rate monitor measures the beating of the heart. I use the information from the monitor to determine how a horse responds to training. I combine this with blood tests. If a horse works out at a certain pulse level, I can measure the lactate level in the blood afterwards. The link between lactate level and heart rate gives me essential information about a horse’s capacity, training development and possible sickness, he says eagerly.

- Why is the heart rate monitor so essential in your training routine?

- Because by using the HR monitor I know the exact status of my horses’ physical shape at any given time. The race season for thoroughbred horses is short. This means it is extremely important to have the horses in top shape in just the right time.

Once he has started talking about the advantages of pulse-based training, he can’t seem to run out of arguments:

- Measuring the horses’ heart rate daily makes it easy to detect when a horse deviates from its normal level. This is often an indication of the horse being ill. When a horse’s heart rate at rest rises from its normal, it is an indication of illness. If the heart rate doesn’t go down as quickly as it normally does after a training pass, it is also a warning signal. It is obviously very important to avoid training the horses hard if they are ill or out of shape. A top athlete, whether it’s a horse or a human, can have their careers ruined by excessive training during illness, Haugen says.

Training consultant for the Olympic team

- I also have to point out the importance of being able to reproduce a certain training routine. I’ve succeeded with several racehorses in the past years. But what if I had these successful horses, but subsequently didn’t have a clue how hard I actually trained them? How would I be able to learn from what I’d done? , Haugen asks rhetorically.

- Pulse-based training and specific blood tests give me information I can learn from. This way I don’t stagnate, but keep developing as a trainer. I think that’s why our stable is at the top year after year, the trainer champion analyzes.

- I believe that all horse athletes can be successful following the training principles I use on my thoroughbred horses, if they have the necessary potential, of course. Sooner or later I hope to find time to try it out on standardbred trotters as well, he says vaguely, for the first time during this interview keeping the cards to his chest.

He certainly has the opportunity to try out his theories on top athletes in the show jumping business soon enough. The Norwegian show jumping team has qualified for the Olympics in Beijing, and Haugen is hired to evaluate and keeping control of the horses’ physical shape towards the big event.

- A huge vote of confidence, Haugen comments, then bursting out:
- A lot of show jumpers and dressage horses, even those competing in high classes, are in poor physical condition. They are trained very specifically at the routines they are supposed to perform at, but lack the most important: endurance and fitness. This makes them vulnerable for injuries such as pulled tendons. Some endurance training in combination with the specific training would lower the risk of injuries significantly for these horses, Haugen claims.

- Does it take a lot of your time collecting the data’s from the training and analyzing it?
-Yes, it does. This is because my whole training system is based on this. Now that GPS is a part of Polars heart rate monitor- system, it is possible to evaluate every step a horse takes during a training pass. As this training control system is something I believe in, I don’t mind using time exploring the possibilities the system gives me. As a matter of fact, the potential that goes along with the GPS HR- monitor makes it almost addicting to work with, Haugen laughs.
- At the same time, I have to say one don’t have to spend all the time that I do to improve a horse. Being in control of your horse’s training and health is the bottom line here.

Is it hard to learn how to use a heart rate monitor on horses?
Definitely not. Several years ago, the equipment was a bit troublesome to use, especially because of the wire, but today’s equipment is wireless and can be put on the horse within seconds, and it’s very accurate. My employees find the heart rate monitor very easy to use in the daily training, Haugen says.

Decides heartrate zones before workouts

- The training jockeys at the stable are taught to make the horses stay at a specific pulse during a workout. I decide the pulse level for each horse in advance, and it’s very important that my employees follow my directions as precise as possible. To inspire them to do so, I have introduced “Watch of the Month”, meaning the jockey that has stayed closest to the right heart rate during a month is rewarded, Rune Haugen explains. This man certainly seems to be in control of every detail of his horses` routines.

- How would it be, do you think, to go back to training horses without using the heart rate monitor-system?
- Impossible! Haugen says without hesitation.
- Simply because being in control of my horses` training gives me the inspiration and joy I need to put a full effort into my work. Another aspect by using a heart rate monitor is that it gives me an indication on which horses to train together. If I have a two-year-old with a very high capacity, this horse won’t develop optimally if trained among other horses at the same age with lower capacity. This horse can be trained with the tree-year-old horses, but if so, it is extremely important to monitor the training so the horse isn’t trained too hard for his age and ability. Training harder than a horse is ready for, means asking for injuries to pop up, Haugen says while almost pushing his teacup off the table by his eager gesticulation.

No tendon injuries

- Speaking of injuries, training- induced injuries are a common problem among sport horses. Often the injuries are career-ruining. What’s your experience on this?
-As mentioned, the owners of this training camp used to have a lot of injuries on their horses. After the introduction of monitored training, no horse has pulled a tendon. Optimal doses of training makes sure the horse’s body isn’t overstrained, but at the same time the horses have to train hard enough to be fit for the tough races they are competing in. I know I am repeating myself, but “controlled training” is the key word even here.

- You make it sound so easy. But a heart rate monitor itself can hardly make you a top trainer?
- Of course “feeling” and horse experience means a lot too. But honestly, I don’t see why using training aids like HR monitors makes any horse trainer less of a horseman. A combination of experience and new technology seems like a good combination to me, Haugen says and smiles.

- What are your goals for the future, Rune Haugen?
- I’ve made it to the very top in Scandinavia. I’ve raced horses internationally too, with good results. My specific goal is to win a prestigious international race in France or England. With my top training system, top training camp and with owners that buy top young horses, I don’t see why I wouldn’t achieve my goal within a few years.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Heart Rate Training Zones explained

The MAXIMAL zone (90-100%) of max HR
Training at this intensity is the definition of speed work. Main benefit is increased neuromuscular coordination at race-specific speeds. Also the scene of extreme fatigue, work in this zone must be carefully controlled. In the US this is done every 6-12 days, more often in Australia and other countries albeit over softer surfaces.

The THRESHOLD zone (80-90% of max HR)
This is the pace at which the horse is still able to use lactic acid for energy, which delays the onset of fatigue during a race. Targeting gallops towards this zone will improve cruising speed in a race. Only accompished by a 2:00 lick in ELITE horses, others will need to slow down.

The AEROBIC zone (70-80% of max HR)
This intensity best develops lung function and improves the horse's ability to use oxygen to fuel movement. Exercise at this pace actually allows for the creation of new blood capillaries which aid in performance. Happens a lot during the 'legging up' phase of getting a horse ready for the races, but often neglected when racing commences.

The RECOVERY zone (60-70% of max HR)
Here is the optimal pace to train in which any lactic acid is flushed away, and the recovery processes are enhanced. Best used after a breeze for 60-90 seconds before exiting the track. Many jogs, especially indoors, are just a tad to slow to accomplish optimal recovery.

The definition of fitness is for your horse to constantly be able to increase his speed or distance, or both, while remaining in these heart rate zones. This is best accomplished with progressive loading (variation of speed, distance, frequency) while allowing for recovery and recuperation.

On the flip side, a horse that normally gallops at 25mph in the threshold zone that suddenly shows maximal heart rates at such a workload, could indeed be compromised and giving you a very early sign that something is amiss.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Why Heart Rate Zone training increases thoroughbred stamina

Horses are so very unique to humans when it comes to exercise physiology. 

For instance, no human is born able to run a 4:00 mile, they first have to compete and train through 8 minute miles, then 7, then 6, etc. until they reach their physical peak, which may never be a 4min pace. This entire process revolves around what is called progressive overload: progressively challenge the body's systems with just a little more work, allow for recovery, and get faster.

Thoroughbreds however, are born and bred to run the equivalent of a human 4 min/mile, let's call it a 12 second furlong. String 12 of those 12 second furlongs together in a row and you have Secretariat, which these days means a $50 million dollar plus animal in the breeding shed.

But, conventional training methods don't always develop the approriate stamina, or endurance - rather they rely on breeding to dictate race performance. 

Rating thoroughbreds to allow their internal systems to grow to support a 3:00 mile, then 2:45, then 2:30, etc. is the best way to help them realize their full athletic potential while assuring optimal levels of soundness along the journey. 

You may never get a Secretariat, Big Brown, Curlin, or Triple Crown winner, but you can make your $10k claimer the winner at his local track.

Shoot, already running out of time...Next post will detail the precise role that heart rate zone training plays in the process.

Monday, February 2, 2009

ThoroEdge Equine Performance

Good morning-

Still frozen here in Louisville, basically no training for going on 3 weeks, but finally later this week things should thaw out, but then get wet of course.

In the meantime, I've been able to update my website considerably. Lots of good new info on there now, and over a dozen meaningful links to more stuff.

There are several 'edges' any horseperson can use to squeeze out improved perfromance from their stock, ranging in cost from free to several thousand dollars. Take a look and please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Check it out at

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Curlin at Lane's End

As you can see, Mr. Curlin is more than ready for stud duty!

He was amazing, at the Lane's End open house last month, there were hundreds of people there to see him and the other superstars, including War Pass who was stabled next door.

Curlin continued to eat while everyone stared and took pics, then he laid down for a nap. His grooms had to awaken him in order to parade him in front of us, which he promptly did - in a most excited state, I might add.

Also made it to Coolmore and Three Chimneys - seeing Big Brown, Henrythenavigator, Fusaichi Pegasus and many others. Fantastic trip.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Breakdowns: US vs Australia

I picked these two countries, because the data I've seen shows the US with the highest breakdown rate per 1,000 starts and shows Australia with the lowest rate:

US - 1.43 - california, kentucky, and florida over 4 year span
AUS - 0.39 - data over a 15 year span

So, a horse racing in the US is 3.7 times more likely to suffer a catastrophic injury than is one in Australia. To be fair, I believe US numbers have come down a bit with the addition of synthetics, but not down to the 0.4 range yet.

I focus on the training process. What follows is my anecdotal evidence of the two countries.

Avg time per day of actual exercise:

US - 15 minutes
AUS - 45 minutes

Avg number of breezes per week:

US - less than one
AUS - 2+

Racing frequency:

US - every 21 days
AUS - every 10 days

Number of HR/GPS monitors in use nationwide:

US - less than 5
AUS - over 100

I stay away from the raceday medication arguments, but the US allows it and AUS does not. Also, many US horses race year round on dirt, while many in AUS race on turf.

What sticks out to me is that Australian horses are trained more often, at higher intensities, and become less prone to breakdowns. The US school of thought is that these animals are so fragile that they must be 'babied' during the training process.

Who seems to turn out stronger athletes?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Use of heart rate and GPS during the training process

Heart rate stuff has been around forever, but two recent advancements have now made this technology a valuable asset to any horseman: GPS functionality, and computer software analysis.

Now you can see objective, quantitative data that illustrates the effectiveness of your training regimens, as well as highlights potential soundness issues. In effect, you have a fitness monitoring system that allows you to learn more about your horses during 3 weeks of training than you typically might learn over 3 months of racing.

Everyone knows that horses are unique individuals, now you can design customized training protocols to fit each horse at any moment in time. Truly allow each to reach his/her potential in the safest and quickest manner possible.

Heart Rate is the best indicator of exercise intensity.

It is the sum total of breeding, environment, and trainer-controlled variables such as gallop speed, distance, and frequency of exercise.

Some horses possess large hearts as evidenced by ultrasound as a yearling, but lack the conformation to move efficiently. Others post modest heart scores but have a way of going that requires little energy outlay. Yet others lack the proper enzyme levels and/or blood chemistry to finish strongly.

All of these factors can me measured, and therefore improved with proper training intensities. To sum up, the lower the heart rate at any given speed, the fitter the animal.

How the heart rate responds with increasing and decreasing gallop speeds allows us to pinpoint the current level of conditioning, and detail precisely what amount of work is needed to improve. Never fall victim to the ‘too much, too soon’ syndrome again.

This forms the basis for everything that ThoroEdge does, because having a system that can prove, on the training track, that these other ‘edges’ truly make a difference in any individual horse, is the core of our service.

Racing is full of so many variables such as trip, surface, travel, rider, traffic, etc. that uncovering a truly improved performance can take quite a long time – whereas in the mornings on the training track, those variables are constant.

There are 3 main providers of the equipment: etrakka, polar equine, and Vmax. A later post will debate the pros and cons of each.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Niagara Equissage

Hello from frozen Louisville-

I've had remarkable results lately from the Niagara Equissage system, sold in the US by Equine Products, LLC. 

I have personally seen improvements of 10-15+ Beyer points through the proper use of this tool. The system delivers cycloidal massage to performance horses with the use of a saddle-like back pad and hand unit that works with a leg/tendon boot. 

In the US thoroughbreds are often not given an appropriate warm up prior to loading in the gate. Use of the Niagara Equissage system within the hour just prior to the post parade has proven to dramatically improve racing performance. 

The system improves circulation, joint range of motion, and the respiratory processes. The horse experiences relaxed musculature, tension release, and enhanced lymphatic system performance. 

Use pre and post exercise, both during training and racing. Many large racing stables I work with send grooms to the track and fail to use this valuable tool properly, don’t make that mistake!-

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

If I Was a Horseman...

If I was a horseman I would know that unbalanced Thoroughbred Racehorses breakdown.  I would look at finish line videos and see that almost every American trained Thoroughbred Racehorse runs slightly slanted to the left, unbalanced in its action and stride.

If I was a horseman I would know or learn how to balance a racehorse.  I would know that it is impossible to produce balanced racehorses training and racing left-turn only.

If I was a horseman I would not allow exercise riders or jockeys to ride acey-ducey; putting their weight slightly off center on my racehorses back, adding to unbalancing my Thoroughbred Racehorses.  Nor would I allow exercise riders to hold a neck strap or martingale and a rein in one hand pulling my racehorse’s heads unnaturally to one side contributing to unbalancing my racehorses.

If I was a horseman I would know that the Seven (7) minutes maximum the average American Thoroughbreds racehorse spends on the training track is not enough training time for developing the bone, ligament, tendon densities plus heart and lung strength necessary to withstand racing’s pressures.

If I was a horseman I would know or learn what type of track work is needed to develop the correct bone, ligament, tendon densities plus heart and lung development that produces sound, non-bleeding racehorses able to withstand racing’s pressures.   I would study the training schedules of old-time trainers during the days of America’s drug free iron racehorses who started 20 times as 2yo’s and stayed sound for an average 100-plus lifetime starts and the training charts of modern leading Australian trainers who breeze(d) their racehorses 2 or 3 times per week, sometimes their full race distance.   I would come to know that breezing only once a week does not provide enough race specific exercise to keep my horse’s race fit, sound and not bleeding.   And I would know that harmful unnecessary, legal race day drugs like lasix (salix), glenbuterol, bute, injecting joints with steroids are badly affecting my racehorses health and racing longevity plus they allow owners and trainers to run half-fit, unsound racehorses instead of turning them out letting nature heal them.

If I was a horseman I would walk my horses for 15-30 minutes BEFORE they go on the training track starting a correct and necessary warm up process.

If I was a horseman I would slow jog my racehorses for at least a half-mile before they workout to continue a correct and necessary warm up process and I would slow jog my racehorses for a mile AFTER they workout, providing a correct and necessary lactic acid flush of their musculature systems.

If I was a horseman I would sand roll my racehorses after every workout, before they are hosed off or washed so that they would not roll in their stalls, casting and injuring themselves unnecessarily?

If I was a horseman I would hot-walk my racehorses to the left on the day they worked right turn and I would hot-walk my racehorses to the right on the day they worked left turn to help prevent arthritic back and neck conditions that affect far too many left-turn only  American Thoroughbred Racehorses.

If I was a horseman I would know that tree-less exercise saddles cause the sore backs prevalent in far too many American Thoroughbred Racehorses.  I would know that when a rider stands up in the stirrups for slow gallops he or she is forcing my Thoroughbred Racehorses to work off the forequarter (pounding the ground), that if the riders sit down in the saddle (as they do in South America) they would help my Thoroughbred Racehorses work off their hindquarter, developing more driving power and helping to keep them sound.

If I was a horseman I would know that a horse (or human) standing unnaturally still and stiff in a tight space (racetrack stall) for 23 hours per day is susceptible to arthritic conditions.    I would know that a horse needs an hour afternoon walk in the sun to keep it limbs mobile and to receive some of the vital natural vitamin-D that helps keep racehorses sound and healthy.

If I was a horseman I would provide small sun-yards for my racehorses so that weather permitting they would spend a second hour in the sun, receiving more vital natural vitamin-D that definitely helps keep my racehorses sound, healthy, not-bleeding and helps keep racehorses horses from suffering the terrible boredom of 23 hours locked in far too small unventilated racetrack stalls continually breathing in virus and bacteria laden air.

If I was a horseman I would not overfeed and under work my racehorses.

If I was a horseman I would provide good clean dust free hay, clean water and fresh-cut green-chop for my racehorses.

If I was really a horseman???

E. Abraham Ola