Modern Stable Integrates Technology into the Art of Horsemanship

Here’s a cool behind-the-scenes view of Manor House Stables in England; a successful barn marrying both the art and science behind thoroughbred conditioning. Watch it – then read below. The stuff germane to this blog runs from roughly the 8:30 through 13:00 minute mark, but it’s all quite fascinating. Kudos to staff equine exercise physiologist George Wilson who is captured installing the HR/GPS gear at the barn as well as later analyzing the data on his laptop.

Jointly owned by ex-soccer star Michael Owen and Betfair founder Andrew Black – it’s obvious that both analytical business sense as well as modern conditioning methods contribute to this stable’s success. Hats off to trainer Tom Dascombe, as we see just how he must juggle so many competing interests in making the tough decisions concerning who to race/where to race/when to race.

Feeling legs for heat is a perfect example of the intersection of horsemanship and technology. All horsemen know that heat in a foot or ankle is a bad sign; but where do you suppose this heat comes from? It’s the body’s response to repairing damage – by forcing blood into the affected regions. Obviously this blood comes from the heart, but what many don’t realize is that the heart doesn’t simply produce more blood per beat in this scenario, it beats faster – and that is measurable via quite simple means.

All vets know that a horse with a common resting heart rate of 31bpm that suddenly shows a number of 35bpm one morning is exhibiting an early sign of stress. But that data is nearly impossible to get as once the horse sees you coming with any device, his HR begins to rise.  It also rises when he wakes up, is ready to eat, gets tacked up to gallop, etc. Too confusing, too many variables at play in order for us to acquire actionable intelligence.

So we look at exercise instead, where the resting HR values are multiplied by 6X or more. It’s the same here as in the stall – more blood than usual is a bad thing. While your horse may not show heat in his legs in the morning while standing in a stall; he may now show extra heat (blood) at a gallop – and that is crucially important to know. Likewise, he may use less blood (heat) to accomplish a piece of work – and that is a good thing.

For a practical applied view, let’s take a 3yo making his first few starts, the following example comes from real-life here in the states – but I must respect my client’s anonymity, so we’ll use no names of horses, trainers, owners, or specific races in the 2011 season.

This colt has promise, and impeccable breeding. After a few minor problems at 2, he’s brought along with extreme patience and makes his first starts in the spring of his 3yo season. A good effort out of the box in a MSW is followed up by a strong in the money finish in a non graded stake despite a less than optimal trip.

What next? A common saying is ‘you gotta run them against tougher to see what you have at some point, may as well be now’. That’s 1930′s talk folks, but this is the 21st century. Measurements of how he gallops and breezes, objectively, tell you what you have under the hood, here’s how.

My role is to simply gather data in this case, and report my findings to the connections, making suggestions as to how far/how fast/how frequently to gallop – as well as what class of athletic ability is being demonstrated in the morning workout sessions.

So we have the 3yo in question coming off the first few races in his career. His HR/GPS data from training sessions are beginning to form what I call his ‘metabolic signature’ – and this is becoming quite valuable in making racing decisions.

In this case, our colt was galloping at a 2:17 min/mile pace with a HR of 200bpm (which was 85% of his maximum value) prior to his first MSW victory. After a game effort during a race that was quite a step up in class next time out – his V200 value has improved from a 2:17 pace to a 2:07 pace – indicating possession of stakes level stamina, but certainly not that of the graded stakes variety just yet – he’s certainly on the improve, but caution must be exercised for his next ‘test’.

However, traditional horsemanship dictates otherwise, and he’s sent to post in a big 3yo race against seasoned competitors – where after contesting through the first half mile…he fades to a 30+ length defeat.  It’s been many months since and he has yet to find the winner’s circle while now toiling back in the allowance ranks.

Here again we see how science and technology can impact the art of horsemanship. In the above clip it’s quite evident how important it is to keep horses happy and confident. When you put one in against much better competition to gauge precisely what you have – you run the risk of ruining this carefully cultivated mindset of confidence, and many will never be the same again psychologically, not to mention physically.

You had no other option but to make an educated guess over the past 70 years, but today you do – if you take advantage of it. Coolmore leads the way in Ireland, as does Manor House in England, but who will step up in the US?

P.S. The entire Equidia documentary of Manor House can be found here in 4 parts:

http://www.manorhousestables.com/videotour.html

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About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on January 17, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Bill – great stuff here. Thanks for posting. Still no east coast trainer that has taken interest? Would think someone at a place like Fair Hill, where they’re not as rushed to get on and off the track, would be keen to integrate these methods. As owner of a small breed-to-race operation, I keep holding out hope.

    Thanks for the continued great work!

  2. Thanks Sean, yes I am making some progress with a ‘name’ trainer based in NY. Not at Fair Hill however, which I agree would be a perfect setting for some Euro training methods.

    Also, a few owners are investigating an off track facility here in KY: multiple uphill turf gallops, a dirt 6F oval, high speed treadmill, etc. Key will be going the wrong way around the track 3 days a week in order to build balance – none of this only jogging the wrong way stuff…but also gallops and breezes.

    Think of NASCAR, they only go around left hand turns and it wears their tires unevenly, not to mention their alignment, is it really difficult to imagine the damage such a practice does to a horse? Athletics for humans and horses naturally creates muscular imbalances, and those must be addressed through conditioning practices.

    If you want more info on the trainer up East who will likely be using my methods this spring, please drop me a line privately at bill@thoroedge.com

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