Racing season is upon us once again, and while many will be busy planning what bets to place and hats to wear; spare a thought for the horses who are being put through their paces to ensure they’re hot to trot at one of the most exciting occasions in the racing calendar.
Two weeks before the first race is held at Chester Racecourse on May 6, The Chronicle was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to take a glimpse behind the scenes at one of the county’s top racing stables, Manor House in Malpas, to see exactly how the horses are schooled in preparation for the races.
Manor House, which is jointly owned by ex-footballer Michael Owen and Betfair founder Andrew Black, was converted from a cattle barn in 2007 and then began operating as a training establishment. It currently caters to around 30 horses in training with many people involved in the process of ensuring all of them horses are in top condition.
Some of them will have already raced on different occasions, while others are just babies, but regardless of their age or gender, all stick to the same diet .
Assistant trainer Colin Gorman revealed that all the horses dine on a special, concentrated nut for protein and energy, and are fed at regular intervals four times a day, starting from 4am and ending at 10pm.
“They eat little and often and get weighed every Thursday,” said Colin. “Head lads are assigned to different horses to be their ‘nursemaids’. They will make sure they’re fed properly as well as muck them out.
“Horses are very stressed animals and can suffer badly from ulcers so it’s important to keep them calm, and not do anything that might scare them.”
Indeed, special care must be taken to prepare any horse for a race event. An average training session will last an hour and a half each day, but it is vital the horses get the right amount of training. They can’t be overtrained since anything too strenuous will tire them out because of how much energy they expend; yet if they are under-trained, this could lead to cramps, strains and injuries during the event.
The yard at Manor House is closed between noon-4pm so the horses can rest.
But undoubtedly one of the best forms of relaxation for them is the Equine Spa, which features a special horse ‘jacuzzi’ and swimming pool for both rehabilitation and fitness.
Trainer Tom Dascombe explained how the jacuzzi consists of an sealed tank ice bath filled with water, featuring bubble jets that help stimulate the horse’s circulation. It is seen as an effective healing treatment for horses with problems such as sore shins and can enhance muscle tone and relax muscle spasms.
The swimming pool acts as an invaluable training aid for problem horses who may be injured, or simply too old to exercise in other ways.
“If the horse is training for fitness, it will do 20 laps in the swimming pool in the morning and the afternoon,” said Tom. “After a race the horse will do one lap to cool them down. We have one horse here who never goes on the gallops, and simply gets all its exercise from the pool because he is 10 years old and his body does not need the stress.”
Liquid ice is also sprayed on any injuries and can help with the cooling and soothing of legs after hard exercise.
So when you watch the horses race at next month’s May Festival, just bear in mind that behind the scenes, much hard work and preparation has gone into getting them fighting fit for your day at the races.