Thoroughbred foals see the world at an early age. They are handled from birth, with regular visits from the vet, farrier and travelling in the lorry/horsebox with their dam when visiting the stallion.

In Ireland, most breeders are commercial breeders where they will sell their stock as foals or yearlings and in the National Hunt sphere most young horses are sold as three-year-old stores. There are many ‘pinhookers’ in Ireland, those who buy foals/yearlings and bring them back to the sales as yearlings, two-year-old ‘breeze-up’ horses or as stores. Thoroughbreds will also be sold at many different stages of their racing careers as Horses-In-Training or at the ‘Breeding Stock’ sales.

The Breaking Process

As thoroughbreds are usually handled from a very early age, the breaking process is often a very natural next step for the young racehorse. Many thoroughbreds will have been through the auction ring so will have also had a “sales preparation” where they will have been bitted and lunged and received an all-round education.Once they have been long-reined and are willing and confident in their work, a rider will be added. This process is known as being ‘ridden away’ and the young thoroughbred will learn the basics of flatwork before going out onto the gallops.

More often than not, the recently broken yearling will be ‘turned away’ or given a nice break where they can mature mentally and physically before starting their racing career in the early spring of their two-year-old year.

Thoroughbreds are treated as elite athletes. They have strict routines and schedules in terms of feeding, exercising, turnout, farrier and vet visits etc. Each thoroughbred is treated as an individual and will have their own unique goal and race plan.

James Bowen schools the promising Orsino at Peter Bowen’s Stables Picture: Racing Post

It is important to note that riding racehorses is very different to riding sport horses, hunters etc. Below are some of the main rules involved in riding racehorses.

· After breaking, the emphasis is on fitness and conditioning rather than schooling or flatwork.

· In general, racehorses hack to and from the gallops on a loose rein, with very little interference from the rider. They usually go out in a string and are used to following the horse in front.

· When jumping off on the gallops the rider will take a contact with the horse’s mouth, stand-up in their stirrup irons and lean forward slightly. The rider does not hold the reins in the typical style but ‘bridges’ the reins giving him a secure hold and allows the horse to ‘lean’ against the rider’s hand.

· If the rider ‘changes his hands’ in other words, changes his grip on the reins or shortens them, the horse will take this as a sign to go faster, hence it is unwise to ever ‘change your hands’ if you do not wish to go faster than you are already going.


Life in racing yards is very much split between the morning and evening stables. The morning consists of horses being exercised – ridden out, going on the walker or lunged if needed along with general stable duties such as feeding, haying, mucking out etc

A quiet morning on the Curragh training grounds.
Photo: Patrick McCann/Racing Post 16.03.2020
The yard staff come back in the afternoon for evening stables where some horses will go back on the walker, go for a pick of grass or a leg stretch, have a rug change etc before evening feeds and finishing up for the evening. Afternoon stables gives the trainers and stable staff a good opportunity to look over horses and check for any ailments or injuries.

Life in the racing yard

Racehorses live in the equivalent of five-star hotel accommodation. They are well fed, rugged up and receive top class care and attention. Daily life on a racing yard usually revolves around a fairly strict routine beginning at first light and ending after dark.

In most racing yards, horses will be looked after by the same lad or lass so that they can get to know their habits or idiosyncrasies.

Most horses in training will get 2-3 feeds a day or more, depending on the specific animal. They get fed morning and evening and often get a lunch time feed.

Racehorses are fed high levels of starch and protein along with vitamins and minerals to support their high energy day-to-day routines.


The horse’s routine changes slightly on a raceday. They may still be ridden out in the morning and travel to the races after that. They will always be fed at least an hour before they leave to go to the track.

When a racehorse gets to the races they are unloaded and stabled in the racecourse stable yard, where they can relax before racing. This is very different to the standard riding horse who will generally have to stay in the horsebox at a competition.

Horses will leave the stabling area and go to the pre-parade ring and here they will be saddled in specific saddling boxes. Once saddled they will go into the parade ring where they will parade in front of the crowd before being mounted by the jockeys and going to the start.

In all races the horses’ girths will be checked at the start before they are loaded into the starting stalls if it’s a flat race or it will be a tape start if it is a national hunt race.

The winners and placed horses will always go back into the parade ring to be unsaddled and the winner will go to the dope box where a urine sample will be taken to be tested for any prohibited substances.

All horses will be washed off and walked to cool down after the race. The horses are often given plenty of time to relax and cool down before travelling home.


Telmesomethinggirl and Robbie Power winning the 2m4f mares hurdle.
Listowel Racecourse.
Photo: Patrick McCann/Racing Post 20.09.2020


“Whilst in training, every thoroughbred is guaranteed the utmost care and attention”

The aim of the game for all racehorse owners and trainers is to win races. While winning races at Royal Ascot or the Cheltenham Festival are the ultimate goals for any trainer and owner, any winner at any track will always mean a lot to connections.

The career or a flat racehorse may only be a couple of years but some of the more stamina bred horses may progress to run over hurdles and fences over a longer distance. Not all horses will win races during their careers, but it is guaranteed that whilst in a racing yard, they receive the utmost care and attention to allow them the best chance of success.