The Decline of Horsemanship


Everyone is looking for something, actually one of two things. Either you are looking for opportunities, or you are looking for excuses. That’s it. No matter your worldview or your political leanings, you fall into one of these camps. Those looking for excuses have it easy; you can find what you are looking for in mere seconds and go on about your life with no further investigation.

One can look at the above chart and exclaim: “It’s the breeders fault, we are breeding for early performance.” Or “It’s a numbers game, there are so many more foals/starters these days that it’s nearly impossible to have the same horse be voted the best 2 years in a row.” Or “Sometimes horses just don’t develop at age 3, having spent themselves at age 2.”

Or one can search for opportunity in this data, realizing that of the 3 ‘repeaters’ in the past 22 years – 2 came from the barn of Bob Baffert and the other from Richard Mandella (Beholder, Lookin at Lucky, and Silverbulletday). Those west coast-based trainers drill them longer and faster, similar to what went on with ALL trainers pre-1980 in this country.

Here’s another way to represent the data:


This tweak allows us to lessen the impact of decade to decade variations and also permits me to count the most recent repeater in the current decade not represented on the earlier chart: Beholder, who by coincidence worked last week in a blazing 3F/34.8, her second posted work of 2014.

Therefore, we averaged over 6 repeaters per decade in the first group, exactly 5 in the second group, just over 5 in the third, and a woeful 1.2 per decade between 1980-2013.  Yet, another disturbing downward trend for the sport.

So, horsemanship. Anyone can look into a feed bucket, anyone can learn over many years to feel heat in legs, read the condition book, manage employees, etc. But conditioning a 3yo horse to the top of his/her class after a hugely successful 2yo season? That skill seems to have left us, at least from the records of our trainers east of the Mississippi.

Why? My admittedly biased opinion looks at the decade of the 1980’s as the turning point, where the ability of a top 2yo to hold that form over to age 3 seemingly stopped in its tracks. Two things became prevalent at roughly the same time, and they both start with the letter L – Lasix and Lukas.

Lasix has been done to death….here and elsewhere. So has my position on D. Wayne Lukas, but here’s a bit more detail.

As of this writing, Mr. Lukas has had 27,636 starters in his illustrious career with one repeater on our list; the filly Open Mind in 1988-1989 and she lost her last 5 races, 2 of them at age 3. Lukas disciple Todd Pletcher is 0 for 15,251 and counting despite having some flat-out amazing precocious 2yo stars such as Shanghai Bobby, Uncle Mo and Eskendereya most recently. On the flip side Baffert and Mandella have each accomplished the ‘repeater’ feat with each having 11,000+ career starts, respectively.

And just who the hell is James Rowe? 8 repeaters on our list, 4 of each sex, all between 1907-1921. Astounding any way you look at it. More detail on this fellow follows the data below.




Lookin at Lucky Bob Baffert



Spectacular Bid Bud Delp



Affirmed Laz Barrera



Seattle Slew Billy Turner



Secretariat Lucien Lauren



Buckpasser Eddie Neloy



Needles Hugh Fontaine



Nashua James Fitzsimmons



Native Dancer William Winfrey



Hill Prince Casey Hayes



Citation Ben Jones



Count Fleet Don Cameron



Alsab Sarge Swenke



Whirlaway Ben Jones



Bimelech William Hurley



Cavalcade Robert Smith



Reigh Count Bert Mitchell



Man O’ War Louis Feustel



Sweep James Rowe



Colin James Rowe



Burgomaster John Rogers


Sysonby James Rowe



Hamburg William Lakeland



Requital James Rowe


Domino William Lakeland



Potomac Hardy Campbell


Emperor of Norfolk Robert Thomas





Beholder Richard Mandella            12


Silverbulletday Bob Baffert



Go For Wand William Badgett Jr.



Open Mind D. Wayne Lukas



Ruffian Frank Whiteley, Jr.            11


Gallant Bloom William J. Hirsch



Tosmah Joseph Mergler



Cicada Casey Hayes



Bowl of Flowers Elliott Burch



Idun Sherill Ward



Doubledogdare Moody Jolley



Busher George Odom



Twilight Tear Ben Jones



Mata Hari Clyde Van Dusen



Top Flight Thomas Healey



Alcibiades Walter Taylor



Prudery James Rowe


Regret James Rowe



Ocean Bound French Brooks


Maskette James Rowe


Stamina A. Jack Joyner


Court Dress James Rowe


Artful John Rogers



Tanya John Rogers



Eugenia Burch Jim McLaughlin


Blue Girl John Rogers



Cleophus Hardy Campbell


The Butterflies John Hyland


Yorkville Belle Matthew Allen


La Tosca John Huggins


Los Angeles Robert Campbell


More on Mr. James Rowe , the undisputed king of my repeater list from Wikipedia:,_Sr.

The high points:
He won the Belmont twice as a jockey and eight times as a trainer, holy cow.

In 1879, Rowe joined the Dwyer Brothers Stable. On May 17, 1881, with the future Hall of Fame horse Hindoo, he became the youngest trainer to win the Kentucky Derby. Hindoo won eighteen straight races that year.

Rowe was the leading money winner in horse racing in 1908, 1913, and 1915, the year the Whitney stables’ Regret became the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby. Regret was named 1915′s Horse of the Year. She was later elected to the Racing Hall of Fame. Rowe had four second-place finishes with horses in the Preakness Stakes and won it with Broomspun in 1921.

One of those Belmont victories came in 1908 with a horse named Colin, who went unbeaten during his fifteen-race career. Rowe considered Colin to be the greatest horse he had ever trained. He once said that for his epitaph, he wanted only these words: “He trained Colin.”


Mr. Lowe with Regret, filly of the year in 1914-15 and the first female winner of the Kentucky Derby.


Who Worked 21F in 4 Breezes over Just 15 Days?


Some claimer down at Calder? A millionaire miler in Dubai?  A few dozen random trainees in Europe or Australia? Well, probably – but let’s stick to the US.





















Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014 Santa Anita Handicap winner, Game on Dude! (not pictured above in silhouette)

Small wonder this training feat was undertaken by Bob Baffert, as he continues to do more with less than any east coast based supertrainer. Did you know that we have had but 3 horses repeat as 3yo Horse of the Year (male or female) in the past 22 years – and 2 of them were trained by Baffert?

Everyone had written off Game on Dude after his last performance, a poor effort in the G2 San Antonio over his home strip at Santa Anita just 28 days ago. And perhaps rightfully so, given his previous Santa Anita effort in the Breeder’s Cup Classic last November, an uncharacteristically dull 9th place effort.

I used to peruse the workout data prior to these big races, but gave up after several months of seeing the same patterns. Only minutes before the Big Cap last night, did jockey Mike Smith mention that Baffert had ‘cranked up the training’ on Dude in preparation for his title defense. After the race I hit Equibase to see if that would be reflected in the worktab, and lo and behold it was.

Hmm, where have I read about the importance of frequency as it relates to speedwork? Namely the reasoning behind the 5 days or less intervals between fast furlongs? Oh yeah, here:

A few cite the 41 longer feet traveled by Will Take Charge on his way to finishing second by 1+ lengths as evidence of a superior effort, but the Lukas trainee was a full second behind the front-running Game on Dude through a half mile and also benefitted from some drafting.

Game on Dude has excelled in the early spring racing in southern California the past 2 seasons, only to come up woefully short in the late fall Breeders Cup races.  He’s getting nothing but older (7) by the calendar – will Baffert continue this work schedule in an effort to resurrect the Dude’s last season chances in 2014?

Trainer Alert aka ‘The Russians are Coming!’


A tip of the cap to TimeformUS for alerting me to this 2nd year trainer working exclusively (I believe) for the Russian ownership group Glockenburg LLC. Check out this worktab for a recent debut winner (rode by a Russian jock for a Russian trainer) through a 5 wide trip at Fairgrounds:

pavel(click to enlarge)

No Lasix either, in addition to 3 workouts in 8 days before his debut at 7.5F, two of those sessions back-to-back. Notice he came out of that debut win and worked his fastest 3F ever at 37.2, only to top it 12 days later with a 36.2 over the deep FG strip. In direct contrast to all this good news, he ran a poor 6th in his second outing last week, the future will be interesting with this one.

How about one running tomorrow at FG? I give you Doll Dreams, making her 2014 debut off of 2 fast works at 3F and 5F in the past week alone. She’s in the 6th race tomorrow.

He’s got yet another entry in 2 days (March 9th, 2014) also at FG named Sonorous Voice with a similar workout history:





























Thus far Mr. Vashchenko seems to have mainly lower-end claimers, but is still winning at a decent clip utilizing his unique conditioning regimen. Also had some stalls at Arlington Park last year if I recall.

Perhaps another more well-known all-Russian team is trainer Gennadi Dorochenko, working for ownership group Raut, LLC and utilizing jockey brothers (I assume) Magomet and Myrzabek Kappushev down at Calder. His name will ring a few more bells considering his 2012 Louisiana Derby triumph with 109-1 shot Hero of Order.

Although it doesn’t show in the official worktab, I am told by one of his stable employees that Mr. Dorochenko puts a few furlongs of speed into his horses 2x weekly also, sneaking them in at the end of slower gallops.

хорошая работа !!
(“good work” in Russian) according to Google Translate
EDIT: March 10th, 2014: Doll Dreams ran second by one length at 10-1 and Sonorous Voice won by 5.

Samraat and Richard Violette, Jr.


A ray of sunshine brought into my life here in snowy Kentucky, courtesy of an east coast based trainer on the Derby trail!

I’ve been sleeping through the Derby prep season apparently as this dynamic duo escaped my attention until this weekend. Even after winning the Gotham Stakes at AQU to run his undefeated record to 5, Samraat had just been another name to me, yet another Triple Crown hopeful soon to disappoint. Similarly, although trainer Violette was a name known to me, I had never dug much deeper, until now.

Although a New York bred, Samraat resides in FL at the Palm Meadows Training Center, where the colt has worked a mile THREE TIMES in the past 6 weeks:








Palm Meadows Training Center





Palm Meadows Training Center





Palm Meadows Training Center





Palm Meadows Training Center





Palm Meadows Training Center





With Mr. Violette only making a few hundred starts per year, one would expect him to be ultra cautious with a Derby prospect. I look at things differently; if he had been ultra cautious with this colt, he wouldn’t have a Derby prospect on his hands. Also running in the Gotham entry was Financial Mogul, who has the following worktab:

Track                                       Date                Course             Distance   Time
Fair Hill                                   2/22/2014        All Weather     5F        1:00.60
Fair Hill                                   2/15/2014        All Weather     1M       1:42.00
Fair Hill                                   2/7/2014          All Weather     5F        1:00.00
Palm Meadows Training Center           1/17/2014        Dirt                  1M       1:43.00
Palm Meadows Training Center           1/12/2014        Dirt                  5F        1:00.75
Palm Meadows Training Center           1/8/2014          Dirt                  6F        1:19.80
Palm Meadows Training Center           1/2/2014          Dirt                  4F        48.20

Good heavens, another mile worker, even at Fair Hill. I also see he has a nice filly named Effie Trinket who has yet to make her 2014 debut, does he take it easy on the fairer sex?








Palm Meadows Training Center





Palm Meadows Training Center





Palm Meadows Training Center






Palm Meadows Training Center





Palm Meadows Training Center





Palm Meadows Training Center





Palm Meadows Training Center





Nope. Please note the 4-5 day frequencies of these shorter works, even as she is just getting back to the worktab. 3F slowly, back a few days later and a few ticks faster. Same at 4F. And again at 6F. I’d watch out for this one.

Are there any other East coast based trainers of big time horses working this far, other than Violette and Gyarmati? If so, please give me a heads up. Also, does anyone know how to research past workout schedules for Violette entries in years’ past? Is this his standard operating procedure, or a new norm?

In the years past I’ve posted my negative thoughts towards many fan favorites such as Zenyatta, Uncle Mo, Animal Kingdom, etc. hoping for them to lose races. I’ve also had a few that I was unabashedly in favor of, like Comma to the Top, who performed dismally in the Derby. It certainly feels better to be on the side of a well-deserved favorite, at least on my scale.

What happens next will be interesting. Will he back off Samraat in the weeks leading to the Wood Memorial? Early quotes indicate Samraat came out of the race well, albeit tired. Also, Violette mentioned he was vanning back to Palm Meadows with a different mindset; moreso to graze than train. Doug O’Neill mentioned a few times during his trek with I’ll Have Another that he eased off his 2 prior Derby starters as the big day approached, and later regretted it as they came up way short.

I hope not, and I hope that Richard Violette, Jr. and Samraat win the Triple Crown and bring back old-fashioned work schedules to this game.

EDIT: I’m told by someone in the know that a few years back Violette was not working slow miles in any of his stock, for what it’s worth.

P.S. Extra credit for anyone who can tell me where the image leading this post came from.
Hint: some cover versions of a long ago published book. (You are on the honor system; no Google Image Search!)

In The News: Bloodhorse and Magazine

Gt sport_ 032

Great piece from Steve Haskin called ‘Bend in the Trail’ in the print version of the BloodHorse on Feb. 1st, 2014. Lots of good info about the changing nature of the Derby trail, but these few gems caught my eye.

Calumet Farm and their trainers, Ben and Jimmy Jones, dominated the Derby scene in the 1940’s and 50’s using the Derby Trial Stakes as their main prep. That’s right the one mile race run on the Tuesday just before The First Saturday in May served as their main prep. AND, Mr. Haskin notes, Calumet runners also breeze a half mile on Thursday: 2 days after the mile prep, and 2 days prior to the Big One. With runners such as Whirlaway, Citation, Hill Gail, and Tim Tam – I’d say they did alright. Others copied this strategy as Derby winners Middleground, Determine, and Dark Star used the Trial as their prep on the way to a winning Derby. Carl Nafzger also breezed his 2 Derby winners a half right before the race; as I detailed here:

That above quote concerns Unbridled, but he did the same with Street Sense, who, as Haskin points out, was the only Derby winner to prep in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. 30 others made the attempt, but only Nafzger could pull it off.

Today’s dominating trainer Todd Pletcher is quoted: ‘Five weeks I think is optimal’ spacing for a final prep before the Kentucky Derby. Interestingly enough his only winner, Super Saver, came off but a 3 week layoff after running 2nd in the Arkansas Derby.

I could go on and on, but a lot of good reading is to be had. Not sure you can find the whole article online, I think it’s a print special.

Check out this unique read on genetics testing in thoroughbred racing;–acquisitions/can-science-breed-the-next-secretariat

I was interviewed via phone for the piece, but my portion is to run with a 10 minute video presentation on the topic; who knows if I will ever be able to post it – but the read is even better.

Irish trainer Jim Bolger is a convert to genetic science and the racing game, which should come as no surprise because he also was one of the first to adopt HR/GPS technology in his yard.

I’d like to summarize the piece for you in this space, but I should probably leave it up to the experts.

Dear Grayson-Jockey Club: It’s the Horse, not the Track


The Grayson-Jockey Club recently doled out $1 million for 19 research projects in 2014. One is entitled:

Susan Stover, University of California-Davis -First Year (2 Year Grant) 

Here are a few statements from the study summary and my ‘expert’ commentary.

“Evidence indicates that race surfaces affect the likelihood for injuries in racehorses.”

Sure, I’ll buy that. The latest breakdown stats per 1,000 starters are something like 2.1 on dirt, 1.75 on turf, and 1.5 on synthetics. That is likely statistically significant, but it’s not as simple as the first glance would indicate. Dirt races are run differently than the other 2 surfaces with respect to opening fractions. It seems reasonable that a horse on dirt going through a 22sec first quarter and rubber-legging it home in 25+sec is at increased risk for disaster, roughly 30% more at risk as it turns out.

Keep in mind that I’ve seen turf breakdown data from Australia, home of the world’s best turf sprinters, that comes in at 0.6 breakdowns per 1,000 starts. Hmm. I think that is a far more useful topic needing research dollars: Do US horses on turf breakdown 300% more often than any other racing jurisdiction in the world?

More here:

But I digress, back to the proposed study once again:

“We hypothesize that fetlock hyperextension, and thus related injuries, can be prevented by developing race surfaces that change the way the limb interacts with the surface. Our objective is to determine the characteristics that a race surface should have to prevent fetlock injuries.”

Ok, you lost me. For every 1,000 starters in the US on dirt, 998 of them survive, yet the ‘problem’ is the track? We add more-forgiving synthetics to the mix, along with their slower turf-like opening fractions, and the number or survivors jumps to just 998.5?

I pause to remember Afleet Alex and his infamous stumble coming out of the final turn in the 2005 Preakness:

In real time you can jump to 1:49 in the clip and see Alex clip heels coming out of the final turn. Slow motion replays after the race commence at time 3:14 for those interested. Not only did Alex regain his balance and win this race, but he continued on to win the Belmont Stakes 3 weeks later with the fastest closing quarter mile in 40 years!

Alex was so well-conditioned by Tim Ritchey that he had enough neuromuscular endurance to not only refrain from getting injured, but to get back on the correct lead and storm home. Many readers will recall that Alex experienced his own unique form of interval training: often galloping a few miles in the early a.m, coming back to walk the shedrow, then going back to the track a few hours later to breeze. Surely, just a coincidence.

Watching that replay and the stumble leaving the final turn of a race, is where bad things can, and do, often happen. A while back Aqueduct raceway in NY had a rash of breakdowns (twice as many as normal) that were summarized by location on this handy diagram:


The analysis went on to state: “When the location of each injury were superimposed on a diagram of the inner track, the distribution is consistent with that seen at other North American racetracks and does not indicate any anomaly of the inner track.”

So, it can be said this pattern of breakdowns is prevalent throughout the US. Boy, that’s a lot of injuries in the final 3F of a race. 15/21 to be exact, with 8 in the final quarter alone. Just when most horses are exhausted. Does anyone mean to tell me the condition of the track is different here? No, the level of exhaustion in the horse is what’s different here. Accidents and ‘bad steps’ certainly happen – but only make up less than half of the incidents, in my opinion.

Know what is buried in this 200+ page summary of the Aqueduct breakdowns? ZERO horses broke down in training on this inner track during the 3.5 month time frame.

$%&* ZERO!

Again, the track is the damn same for everyone, and while several hundred trainees never breezing more than 4-5F are just fine ‘skeletally speaking’, 21 are killed going further on raceday for your gambling enjoyment. Perhaps one should investigate why so many more horses suffer catastrophic injuries in the final furlongs of a race, if the true culprit is the racing surface itself?

A main catalyst for the formation of the Equine Welfare and Safety Committee? The untimely death of Eight Belles after her courageous effort in the 2008 Kentucky Derby. Where did it happen? During the 11th furlong of a 10 furlong race – steps after she ran the fastest/furthest of her young life. Not a ‘bad step’, not a track malfunction – intense physiological fatigue and the accompanying loss of neuromuscular coordination. R.I.P. brave filly, but how is ‘certifying’ a gate crew going to prevent this from happening again?

So my point is? Physiologically exhausted horses break down, regardless of the race surface. It happens in endurance, and it happens in the cross country portion of eventing. That is the common denominator, not the racetrack surface.

Here’s a great quote noted by the immortal Steve Haskin from Bloodhorse:

The day before the 130th Preakness Stakes (gr. I), jockey Jeremy Rose said of Afleet Alex, “This horse will run over broken glass if I ask him to.” Damn right.

So what to do? Merely watching a horse jog is pointless, that only catches the obvious cripples. Pre-race veterinary checks will never catch a horse who’s wheels are set to fall off after 6F in 1:12, with 4F left to run, using the Kentucky Derby as an example. But my method will:


There exists a precedent for using a heart rate monitor in conjunction with equine racing. Many endurance races of 30 miles and over require the checking of an exercising horse’s heart rate during several checkpoints throughout the course. Should the heart rate fall outside of the normal ranges, the horse is disqualified from the competition and immediately examined by trained personnel.

Through the use of a heart rate monitor/GPS unit, one can outfit a horse in under 30 seconds with the equipment required to measure and record equine heart rate, speed, and distance during any gallop, breeze, or race.

The resulting info serves much as an exercise stress test does in a human, observing and quantifying the horse’s heart rate response before, during, and after an exercise bout will indicate the presence of abnormalities. The equine heart is the best vital sign of lameness, illness, or injury – often weeks before any visual cues are apparent to the trainer.

For the Kentucky Derby length of 10 furlongs, I would recommend the following:

-Test to encompass 12s/furlong pace at 60-70% of race distance for these elite horses
-1.25 mile race requires 6 furlongs breeze in 1min12sec
-Taken and passed, no less than 3 days before race, no more than 10 – ideal would be 7 days out.
-Recovery heart rate must fall to 120bpm within 2 minutes, and 80bpm within 10 minutes of peak work speed. (2min period reflective of horse being cooled down properly and possessing structural soundness, 10min period reflects fitness level/conditioning of horse).

In my opinion we must strive to prove that a horse is conditioned appropriately for a 6 furlong effort the week before being asked to race 10 furlongs. I would prefer a mile ‘test’, but no way modern day trainers will go for that, even though the old-timers sure would. Horses that have undiagnosed problems with bone remodeling, tendon or ligament stability, or systemic illness or infection will not pass such a test, but they will pass a simple vet-administered jog, or even gallop, ‘test’ with flying colors. They may also ‘pass’ a radiograph examination. It’s not so much what is wrong with a horse at rest, but what is wrong at the 3F pole heading for home. The only way to assess that is by on-board physiological monitoring. Think of a HR monitor as a stopwatch: only instead of measuring work done, it measures the metabolic cost of that work. It measures heat generated by blood pumping from the heart, in effect. Too much heat after 6F in 1:12 is a cause for alarm with 4F still to run.

-taken from letter sent to appropriate Jockey Club authorities in March 2008 by yours truly.

It’ll never happen. My solution entails veterinary, trainer, and owner cooperation – some of which have something to hide. It’s much easier for the Jockey Club to send money to a desk jockey who will merely analyze race statistics in front of a computer, than to change the behavior of the stake-holders, even for the betterment of the horse. I respectfully suggest the Jockey Club needs to spend this money, and wield their influence, in the real-life laboratory found on the backstretch and on the racetrack.

What if we monitored HR/GPS/blood lactate in hundreds of breezing horses at Aqueduct?

What if 10 of those horses broke down in a 3 month period? (about average)

What if those 10 displayed a statistically significant variation in their gallop lactate values, or their post breeze HR recoveries?

Wouldn’t that be more valuable than yet another study on track surfaces aiming to improve survival rates per 1,000 starters from 998 to 998.5?

Norwegian Trainer Winning in Dubai with HR/GPS

#11 in the red cap is the one to watch: outfinishing a sea of Godolphin horses down the stretch – name is Avon Pearl.

Several years ago I documented the work of trainer Rune Haugen, and in light of his triumph at Meydan I am going to cut/paste his story again:

from ‘Rune Rules in Norway’, courtesy of Polar Equine:

A former jockey, Rune Haugen has been an extremely successful thoroughbred-trainer the recent years. Champion trainer at the Norwegian racetrack Øvrevoll three years in a row, Derby-victory, several wins in gr-3 races in Scandinavia and numerous other high-class races makes him one of the top trainers in Scandinavia. The secret behind his success? Controlling and evaluating every part of his horse’s training routines. Haugens most important training remedy is Polar’s GPS heart rate monitor.

Total turn-around

- At “Stall Nor” one top-bred horse after the other broke down and never even made it to the races. The owners were obviously frustrated, and contacted Sæterdal. He transferred human training principles to the horses at “Stall Nor”. He controlled the horses training doses by using heart rate monitors. Within months, the negative trend had turned. The injury-rate fell drastically and the horses started to win races, says Haugen, not mentioning his own important role in the turning process. He was hired as the new trainer at the stable, thus responsible for putting Sæterdals training principles into practice.

Heart rate monitors, lactate- and muscle enzyme-tests are the aids I use to control my horses work-out routines, Rune Haugen explains.

- A heart rate monitor measures the beating of the heart. I use the information from the monitor to determine how a horse responds to training. I combine this with blood tests. If a horse works out at a certain pulse level, I can measure the lactate level in the blood afterwards. The link between lactate level and heart rate gives me essential information about a horse’s capacity, training development and possible sickness, he says eagerly.

- Why is the heart rate monitor so essential in your training routine?

- Because by using the HR monitor I know the exact status of my horses’ physical shape at any given time. The race season for thoroughbred horses is short. This means it is extremely important to have the horses in top shape in just the right time.

Once he has started talking about the advantages of pulse-based training, he can’t seem to run out of arguments:

- Measuring the horses’ heart rate daily makes it easy to detect when a horse deviates from its normal level. This is often an indication of the horse being ill. When a horse’s heart rate at rest rises from its normal, it is an indication of illness. If the heart rate doesn’t go down as quickly as it normally does after a training pass, it is also a warning signal. It is obviously very important to avoid training the horses hard if they are ill or out of shape. A top athlete, whether it’s a horse or a human, can have their careers ruined by excessive training during illness, Haugen says.
Training consultant for the Olympic team

- I also have to point out the importance of being able to reproduce a certain training routine. I’ve succeeded with several racehorses in the past years. But what if I had these successful horses, but subsequently didn’t have a clue how hard I actually trained them? How would I be able to learn from what I’d done? , Haugen asks rhetorically.

- Pulse-based training and specific blood tests give me information I can learn from. This way I don’t stagnate, but keep developing as a trainer. I think that’s why our stable is at the top year after year, the trainer champion analyzes.
- I believe that all horse athletes can be successful following the training principles I use on my thoroughbred horses, if they have the necessary potential, of course. Sooner or later I hope to find time to try it out on standardbred trotters as well, he says vaguely, for the first time during this interview keeping the cards to his chest.
He certainly has the opportunity to try out his theories on top athletes in the show jumping business soon enough. The Norwegian show jumping team has qualified for the Olympics in Beijing, and Haugen is hired to evaluate and keeping control of the horses’ physical shape towards the big event.
- A huge vote of confidence, Haugen comments, then bursting out:
- A lot of show jumpers and dressage horses, even those competing in high classes, are in poor physical condition. They are trained very specifically at the routines they are supposed to perform at, but lack the most important: endurance and fitness. This makes them vulnerable for injuries such as pulled tendons. Some endurance training in combination with the specific training would lower the risk of injuries significantly for these horses, Haugen claims.
- Does it take a lot of your time collecting the data’s from the training and analyzing it?
-Yes, it does. This is because my whole training system is based on this. Now that GPS is a part of Polars heart rate monitor- system, it is possible to evaluate every step a horse takes during a training pass. As this training control system is something I believe in, I don’t mind using time exploring the possibilities the system gives me. As a matter of fact, the potential that goes along with the GPS HR- monitor makes it almost addicting to work with, Haugen laughs.
- At the same time, I have to say one don’t have to spend all the time that I do to improve a horse. Being in control of your horse’s training and health is the bottom line here. Is it hard to learn how to use a heart rate monitor on horses?
Definitely not. Several years ago, the equipment was a bit troublesome to use, especially because of the wire, but today’s equipment is wireless and can be put on the horse within seconds, and it’s very accurate. My employees find the heart rate monitor very easy to use in the daily training, Haugen says.
Decides heartrate zones before workouts - How would it be, do you think, to go back to training horses without using the heart rate monitor-system?- The training jockeys at the stable are taught to make the horses stay at a specific pulse during a workout. I decide the pulse level for each horse in advance, and it’s very important that my employees follow my directions as precise as possible. To inspire them to do so, I have introduced “Watch of the Month”, meaning the jockey that has stayed closest to the right heart rate during a month is rewarded, Rune Haugen explains. This man certainly seems to be in control of every detail of his horses` routines.
- Impossible! Haugen says without hesitation.
- Simply because being in control of my horses` training gives me the inspiration and joy I need to put a full effort into my work. Another aspect by using a heart rate monitor is that it gives me an indication on which horses to train together. If I have a two-year-old with a very high capacity, this horse won’t develop optimally if trained among other horses at the same age with lower capacity. This horse can be trained with the tree-year-old horses, but if so, it is extremely important to monitor the training so the horse isn’t trained too hard for his age and ability. Training harder than a horse is ready for, means asking for injuries to pop up, Haugen says while almost pushing his teacup off the table by his eager gesticulation.

No tendon injuries

 - Speaking of injuries, training- induced injuries are a common problem among sport horses. Often the injuries are career-ruining. What’s your experience on this?

-As mentioned, the owners of this training camp used to have a lot of injuries on their horses. After the introduction of monitored training, no horse has pulled a tendon. Optimal doses of training makes sure the horse’s body isn’t overstrained, but at the same time the horses have to train hard enough to be fit for the tough races they are competing in. I know I am repeating myself, but “controlled training” is the key word even here.

- You make it sound so easy. But a heart rate monitor itself can hardly make you a top trainer?

- Of course “feeling” and horse experience means a lot too. But honestly, I don’t see why using training aids like HR monitors makes any horse trainer less of a horseman. A combination of experience and new technology seems like a good combination to me, Haugen says and smiles.
- What are your goals for the future, Rune Haugen?
- I’ve made it to the very top in Scandinavia. I’ve raced horses internationally too, with good results. My specific goal is to win a prestigious international race in France or England. With my top training system, top training camp and with owners that buy top young horses, I don’t see why I wouldn’t achieve my goal within a few years.
EDIT: How about Dubai  in 2014 Rune?

ThoroEdge Featured in Local Media

Above is yours truly and the racemare that started it all – Celestial Princess.

When we claimed her she was a 3 time winner after a couple of dozen starts, and an earner of nearly $100k from racing mainly at Charles Town in West Virginia. After a few poor runs, I started to try out my HR/GPS gear and theories on her – with full cooperation from long time family friend and trainer Doug Ham. She won 3 of her last 5, should have been 4, before retiring due to old age and old ankles. PPs here:

One thing we did was quantify the benefits of Niagara Equissage therapy:

This was in the day’s before I found STORM, so nothing to report there. Anyway, I was reminded of these days as I interviewed with local writer Mark Coomes for a 2000 word article found here:

Lots of great feedback thus far; and the above piece was picked up at Equidaily, Thoroughbred Daily News, and a few others. Enjoy!-

ESSI – Scientific Racehorse Conditioning in KY


Just outside of Lexington, ESSI opens their doors to the public – featuring several turf gallops (1 uphill), a 5F training oval, turnout paddocks, and a high speed treadmill imported from Australia.

More here:

Full HR/GPS/blood lactate monitoring in real-time, controlled workouts on treadmill, STORM supplementation for all, etc.

I could go on and on, but really all you need to know is found on their website.

A few times each month I hear from owners asking where they can send horses for this kind of treatment – and here is a brand new option in KY. Where better to get started with this stuff than a facility under the careful eye of the man who literally wrote the book on the subject back in 2000:

Training and Fitness in Athletic Horses, by Dr. David Evans:


Performance Genetics: Good Stuff

Performance-Genetics-1 (1)
These guys are based here in Lexington, and their website has a trove of great info for those interested in the intersection of exercise science, genetics, and equine performance:

Via Twitter, they recently turned me on to a great study looking at beta-alanine supplementation and swimming performance in humans:

This is of interest to me because I distribute the STORM product, but have not yet been able to set up a controlled experiment on equine performance. I could likely do so in quick order, but frankly, no one would pay a bit of attention – and I am having good enough results on my own.

Anyway, the abbreviated version of the study:

Humans swimming 200m in about 120 seconds were supplemented with beta-alanine for 5 weeks. Afterwards their 200m swim times improved by 2%. That’s quite significant. Important to note: humans typically have about 8% levels of carnosine in their muscles, while horses have as much as 30% – so I shouldn’t be too surprised at the results I am having on the track. As a matter of fact the ‘Harris’ cited as a source in one of the supporting studies is half of the team behind STORM.

Also, we see here that these human swimmers show blood lactate levels of 9-15 mmol after the event. Thoroughbred horses? I see numbers always over 20 after 6F, and closer to 30mmol in the longer events. Wow.

Of note, supplementation in this study was only 5 weeks in length, yet the manufacturers behind STORM note continued uptake of beta-alanine in horses on up through 12 weeks. So these swimmers may just be starting to feel the benefits – yet the study ended, prematurely in my opinion.

Lastly, the above study also looked at the additional supplementation of sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda. Horsemen and women around the world will recognize this as the now-illegal baking soda milkshake. In these human trials, the addition of bicarbonate made no difference over 100m, and a very small one at 200m.

I’ve always maintained that buffering lactic acid in muscles was much more important to performance versus merely doing so in the blood. Beta-alanine works on the muscular level, while bicarbonate functions in the bloodstream. That’s why one must supplement with BA 2x daily for weeks before seeing any benefit, yet milkshaking a horse must occur close to post-time to (potentially) help racing results.

One thing the fellows at Performance Genetics are discovering is the HUGE variability among horses in how they respond to exercise. That principle is also likely at work regarding supplementation; either of the legal STORM variety or the forbidden bicarbonate milkshake route. Also, some horses will explode after some high altitude exposure – like this bad boy:



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