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A Day in the Life of a Racehorse

Ever wonder what it is like to be a racehorse? Racehorses are trained according to individualized schedules that steadily increase their fitness and capacity to handle the stresses of racing. Below, we have detailed a typical day, week, month, and year in the life of a racehorse.

– a day in the life of a racehorse –

Ashlee Eileen Wolf exercising a Thoroughbred
Photo via Frogster Photos

4:30 AM

  • first grain is fed and tack is set out
  • if horse is set to gallop:
  • horse is tied in its stall, groomed, hooves picked, toweled off, and polos are rolled on and taped
  • horse is tacked up
  • if horse is not set to gallop:
  • horse is groomed the same as if it were training
  • horse is walked for 30 to 45 minutes while its stall is cleaned

6:00 AM

  • track opens
  • the rider arrives and horse and rider walk to the track sometimes accompanied by a pony horse
  • on the track the horse and rider will “back track” or jog roughly a half mile on the outside rail opposite of the gallopers
  • horse and rider will stop and face the “traffic” to find a good spot to start
  • horse and rider will gallop about 1 mile to 1 & 1/2 miles before “pulling up” and jogging back to the gap to exit the track
  • they will stop and face the inside before walking off
  • generally, a horse and rider are on the track for about 15 to 20 minutes in the morning
Grooms with a horse at Keeneland Race Course

10:00 AM

  • as horses come off the track in the morning, they are untacked by their rider and their polos are unwrapped by their groom
  • horses are offered fresh water and bathed with a sponge or hose
  • horses are then hand walked by a “hot walker” or put on a walking circle for 20 to 30 minutes until cool and dry
  • horses return to their stalls, are re-groomed, and given more grain and a fresh net of hay

4:00 PM

  • in the evening grain is mixed while stalls are picked, hay nets are hung, and water buckets are filled
  • horses are given their third grain and tucked in for the night
Ashlee and her OTTB gelding Powerized

– a week in the life of a racehorse –

  • horses typically train 3 to 5 days a week
  • in addition to regular gallops, horses also “breeze,” or travel approximately 12 seconds per furlong, once a week
  • weekly therapies and treatments vary between barns, but are not limited to cold therapy, medicated poultice, chiropractic adjustment, electrical muscle stimulation, and more

– a month in the life of a racehorse –

  • horses are re-shod by a farrier every 4 weeks and receive regular veterinary care
  • in general, horses will race about once a month
  • on race day:
  • horse is walked in the morning
  • horse is bathed with soap
  • horse will be groomed and have hooves picked
  • about a half hour before the race, horse wrapped with bandages, bridled, and lead to the receiving barn
  • horse is saddled, ponied to the track, jogs and gallops to warm up, loaded in the gate and races
  • after the race, horse is offered water, bathed, given electrolytes, and walked for 30-45 minutes until cool and dry
  • the day after a race, a horse will usually walk in the morning
Photo via Audra J Wraspir

– a year in the life of a racehorse –

  • total number of races varies, but typically horses will start 5 to 10 times per year
  • most horses are given time off or a “layoff” which will last 4 to 8 weeks each year
  • career longevity is dependent on the individual horse, but a horse can make anywhere from 1 to 100+ starts in its lifetime
  • horses generally start training at age 2 and can race into their teens!
A groom with a horse at Keeneland Race Course

We hope that this helps clear up some misconceptions about racehorses and the level of care they receive at the track. Understand that this routine is not without lots of peppermints and one-on-one time with grooms. Racehorses are treated like professional athletes around the clock. When they make the transition from the racetrack, they often feel less secure. Insecurity coupled with a dramatic change in diet can lead to behaviors that many misinterpret. A familiarity with how racing barns operate can make the transition easier for both the horse and the new owner. Off-track horses can transform into willing, athletic partners when given proper understanding.

To go inside a day in the life of a racehorse, you can follow along with OTTBwestern Ambassador Ashlee Eileen Wolf as she takes over our Instagram and Facebook stories from Tillamook Fair.

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