Friday, February 22, 2019

What is your Kentucky Derby experience?

My answer on Quora:

I’ve been to the Derby in about every location on track that they have - infield, grandstand, paddock only, clubhouse, corporate tent - haven’t been to millionaire’s row or the turf club though! Before 9–11 we could party in the barn area and that was the best of course but very restricted nowadays. If you want to see old pics from the backside on Derby Day, check out this link - Louisville Horse Community, photos and videos from local horse events
I always had fun, but you have to put in the effort to dress comfortably for where you will be, and the weather, and personally I probably won’t ever attend again unless I can go to the clubhouse or turf club, ha. The cost of a clubhouse ticket for one person on Derby Day is minimum $2000. Turf Club I’m guessing around $10,000.
Like another writer said, the TV experience is very good because you get all the background stories on the horses, owners, trainers, jockeys. You don’t get all that when you’re at the track. If you’re lucky enough to have a front row seat at the Derby, it really is a thrill to be there in person.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Training for the Trainers

The #1 question asked here is "how can I become a trainer"?  In recent years that question has become a little easier to answer due to the "Groom Elite" program.  We're happy to report that there are new classes coming up that include the Trainers' Exam Prep class.  Find out more at

The #2 question asked here is "how can I become an exercise rider at the track"?  The answer to that one is sadly still the same as it ever was, a long work in progress that I detail in this article,

I say the answer is sad because I feel there should be a more formal and affordable course for exercise riders to take before they try to gallop horses at the track.  Something like this really should be required for riders to get a track license. This is very badly needed today as veteran riders are aging and retiring, and young riders are showing up at the racetrack unprepared for that environment.  Accidents are increasing because some new riders don't understand the rules of morning training hours and some don't have the experience to be able to stay aboard and control very fit thoroughbreds.

Maybe Groom Elite can add an exercise rider class to their program.

Friday, December 29, 2017

What happens to race horses once they stop racing?

Most ex-racehorses are adopted and re-trained for another sport. There are hundreds of non-profit organizations that take in retired racehorses and advertise them to potential adopters. The horses go on to do everything from trail riding to showjumping. 

Retired Racehorse Project is a showcase for adopted thoroughbred racehorses.

Do racehorses know what they're in a race to do?

Racehorses really know when they lost and they show it after the race is over by stomping around, shaking their head and generally acting mad. When they win they are bigger than life, confident and proud. 

Less talented racehorses that just aren’t fast enough or lack confidence in general, also know when they lose and that type will tend to sulk after a race. 

Bad racehorses that may be fast enough but they just don’t want to race are the worst to be around because they neither get mad nor sulk, but walk around after the race acting like, “see what I did, I got out of that race without even trying, ha, ha! Why don’t you let me try showjumping?” Believe me, thoroughbred racehorses are pretty smart cookies and every one is unique.

What is the name of the bugle fanfare played at the start of horse races?

“Call to the Post”

How does the buying process work when buying a race horse?

There's 3 ways to buy a horse for racing in the U.S.
1. private sale - if you identify a horse you'd like to buy, and you can contact the owner, you just call and make an offer.  If the offer is accepted you pay by bank wire transfer or cash to the seller, and you get a notarized bill of sale signed by buyer and seller, and you receive the original registration papers for the horse from the seller.

2. claiming from a race - the U.S. has claiming races at most tracks with a set price for each horse in the race.  If you identify a horse to "claim", you must have deposited money on account at the track where the race will be held, and then you must submit to the racing office a "claim slip" properly filled out and signed by the buyer, no later than 15 minutes to post time for the race.  After the gate has opened for the race, and if no other party also submitted a claim for the same horse, you then own that horse and must pick it up in the paddock after the race.  

3. auction - many auctions are held in the U.S. and in fact all over the world for race horses of all ages.  Each auction company has rules for how to go about bidding on a horse.  Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton sales companies are 2 of the biggest auction houses for thoroughbreds in the U.S.  See their web sites for details.

Who makes the rose garland given to the winner of the Kentucky Derby? has all the details.

If I meet a racehorse owner at the track, what questions should I ask?

Ask which race and the name of the horse, and ask if you should bet that horse to win, or put it in an exotic bet - that will start a great conversation. Always ask the owner if you can get in the win photo, and if the horse wins make sure you are standing near the gate into the winner's circle and just file on in there with the owner's group for that picture.   Make sure to ask the photographer how to order the photo before you leave after the photo is taken.  They will usually have photos ready by end of the race day.

How does the rider get a horse to go sideways?

After the horse is trained to respond to the leg and rein aids, often all the rider needs is to sit slightly harder on the seat bone that is on the side that you wish the horse to move to.  The horse will move that way to stay in balance with the rider - weighting the stirrup on that side may have the same effect but the stirrup is not needed, only the rider's weight in the saddle.  Often I see riders inadvertently sitting unevenly in the saddle, sometimes just because the rider is built a little crooked, maybe one leg is longer than the other, or the rider's spine is slightly crooked, and they have problems with a horse drifting in or out, or problems getting a right or left canter lead.  Sometimes perceived problems with a horse are really problems with the rider.  

What doesn't work to get a horse to go sideways is pulling the horse's head around to the side you want him to move to.  Works better to move both reins together in the direction you want the horse to move, so to go sideways left, the right rein will rest on the horse's neck and the left rein will not pull the horse's head around but will hover next to the horse's neck, creating an opening for the horse to move into.

What does it mean when a mare suddenly starts rearing and other bad behavior?

The first thing that came to my mind when I read your question is that sometimes mares have terrible reproductive issues that make them crazy, even dangerous every time they cycle into heat.  I have known of mares that had to go on Regumate to regulate hormones, and I've also known of mares that had their ovaries removed to resolve their pain.  

Saturday, June 03, 2017

You asked for the Trainers' test, and we've heard there's prep exams being held in 2017!

C. Reid McLellan, PhD., Executive Director of the Groom Elite Program, Inc., and a nationally known equine educator, will be conducting a trainers' exam "Prep Class" in Lexington, Kentucky on June 28-30, 2017.   There's another one at Remington Park, August 16-18.

For details, see

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Always Dreaming and the draw reins

I cringe every time I see the video of Always Dreaming lunging about on the track, sometimes way overflexed with nose on chest - probably an old video, hopefully he's going better now, but I have to wonder if anybody from that barn thought to try the chambon first.  It's all elastic, adjustable, runs from the poll, through the bit rings and to the girth - so out of the rider's hands.

Go slow and set it loosely to make sure it doesn't freak the horse out, first just walk around the barn, then take some time jogging before going on to gallop.  In our experience, most horses find it a calming influence and those we've tried it on showed immediate improvement, eventually to the point of not needing it at all in a fairly short time.  The chambon is so rare on the American racetrack that we kind of hide ours as a "secret weapon". - here's Always Dreaming overflexed in draw reins

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

OWNERS - do you know where your day rate money goes? (Updated)

This is an article we originally wrote many years ago, and try to keep updated every few years, detailing the costs of owning a racehorse in training at the track.

We just updated the numbers through 2015, read the full text at

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Where do trainers get all the stuff they need for the stable?

I haven't written anything lately because I've been busy working at the track - in the stable as groom, hotwalker, barn foreman, and frankly - equipment manager.  There is so much stuff you need to run a racing stable, and it's used hard so some things wear out amazingly fast. A university student just asked me where we get all our "stuff" as part of her marketing study, and here's what I said, probably more than she wanted to know, and I could elaborate a lot more!

"Hi Raquel!  You specified “blankets, saddle pads, bandages, hoods” – by hoods I assume you mean blinkers.  We buy most of our stable supplies from unless we need something that’s so heavy the shipping cost will be too high. 
For heavy things like rakes, forks, wheelbarrows, fans: we go to Home Depot or Lowes. 
For heavy things like buckets of poultice, powdered or liquid supplements, we go to the local tack shop – most racetracks have a vendor for these items on site or near the stable area.  Sometimes it’s the feed company located on the racetrack property or close by.

challenge is the stuff that race trainers need to be color specific to match the stable colors and/or logo – we need stall webbings in the stable colors which usually have to be ordered and they are very heavy.  The saddle pads with logo have to be specially ordered.  Usually the on-track tack shop can get these things at the best price." 
I would just add that getting saddle pads with logo and signage is fairly challenging.  The people around who provide these services specific to the horse and racing industry seem to be few and far between.   I'd like recommendations!