Published in North American Trainer, Winter 2017.
Consider throwing a 13-year-old school child into a university environment straight from prep school.
The child would be faced with sights, sounds, and influences that the young mind would struggle to compute, with physical rigors on the sports field that would either disappoint the mind or cause physical damage. I cannot think of any parent that would choose this for their adolescent. Yet we often do this to the young horse, plucking them straight from the sleepy pastures of their nursery into an environment that is measured upon its production of top-level runners. Perhaps we send them via the sales…an entrance examination of sorts.
When put like this it is clear that, as custodians of young bloodstock, we might consider a period of preparation during which the horse would be introduced to saddle and rider and taught the basic lessons that would allow it to fit into the program of the trainer that its owner chooses. These early lessons would also give each individual a careful conditioning of the physical stresses that will be tested further upon his or her graduation to the greater strains required to reach race fitness.
For the sake of this article pre-training will be considered to be the safe development of a horse towards its first joining a trainer or returning from a break not enforced by injury, as opposed to rehabilitation. The American racing industry has the perfect phrase for this: “legging up.”
While there has been a constant uptick in the number of commercial pre-training yards in Europe over the last 25 years to satisfy a growing demand for this service, this is something that has been a longstanding practice further afield, particularly in countries where there is stabling pressure at the racetrack or in metropolitan stables, not to mention numerous larger owners who employ a farm trainer or establish their own pre-training division.