Early Education process of a Thoroughbred

The early education process, also called breaking-in, lays the foundation for all future racehorses before they head to their individual trainers. An exciting part of the horse ownership journey is seeing the progress of your racehorse from the educational stage, all the way through to the racing stage. Generally, all yearling racehorses for sale at auctions will subsequently head for a short spell and then start their early education at different farms with breakers.

Once the horse is settled in, the teaching process will begin, which often follows the different phases outlined below:

  • Mouthing, lunging and the roller
    Every young horse will start off by getting lunged in a small yard, where the trainer works from the ground and gets the thoroughbred used to the cues that later-on come from the rider. The horse will be “mouthed” during their early education, which means it will get used to having a bit in its mouth and following the pressure of it. Once confident on the lunge and with the bit, the trainer will add a roller, which is essentially a girth that gets the horse used to the saddle pressure. Most horses will have four to five sessions with the gear on before moving to the next step.
  • Saddle, weight and first ride
    Following their first week the horses get used to wearing a saddle instead of a roller, which also adds some weight to their backs. A buck here and there is not unusual during this process. The trainer will then start to lean on both sides of the saddle to increase the pressure on their back, before putting their foot in the stirrup for the first time and going for a first ride. The first ride will always be supported by a second person on a ‘pony’, to give guidance to the young horse and assistance to the trainer if needed. During the first ride the horse will be asked to walk, trot, stop as well as turn in both directions. This session usually only goes for 10-15 minutes.
  • Routine and exposure
    Once the first ride is completed, the horse will repeat the learned basics for a few days in the small yard, before moving to a bigger arena, where it will also learn to canter under saddle. During that time most young horses will also walk through the barriers and eventually go out to work on the big sand tracks as well as travel to a racecourse to get to know the surroundings there.
  • Barriers, treadmill and swimming
    While getting ridden most days the young thoroughbreds will also learn how to work on a treadmill and how to use the horse swimming pool. The barrier practice also continues in most ridden sessions and at the end of their four weeks preparation each horse will have a small jump-out before heading for a break.
  • Spell and refresh
    After completing a spell of four to six weeks the horse will return to their previous routine and will go through everything they have learned. Once the pre-trainer is confident that the horse has understood the basics they will send it to the trainer, who will continue to educate them for their future racing career.

While some pre-trainers have different training methods, the basics of the early education are the same for every horse. The video below provides a behind-the-scenes snapshot of the above mentioned steps.