Training in the cold

December 2, 2016

The recent cold snap has seen temperatures here in Lambourn hit as low as -8 on a couple of mornings. Every type of weather brings different challenges to training, what are the challenges when its cold?


Facilities

We are lucky here in Lambourn that the village is centred around training horses, roads are always gritted and cleared. Not just the main routes, but all the little lanes and horse paths that the various yards need to use to get to the gallops. All the trainers pay into a fund for this service. The gallops themselves are worked over by Will Riggall and his Jockey Club Estates team to ensure they do not freeze making them hard. The surfaces are all designed to withstand freezing temperatures. This means it has to get well below freezing before they encounter any problems.

In terms of the yard, the first job in the morning is to get the grit out to ensure it is safe for horses and staff. Flighty thoroughbreds are adept enough at getting themselves into a scrape, without requiring the extra challenge of an ice patch. All the water pipes are insulated and taps turned off at the stop cocks, there is nothing worse than frozen pipes first thing in the morning. Maintaining good fresh airflow through barns is vital for horses delicate airways, so one has to be careful not to shut them up too much to keep the heat in.


The Horses

The biggest challenge horses face in the cold is keeping warm, the colder it is the more calories they require to keep warm. As we are training athletes we want to be turning their feed into muscle and strength not using it to keep warm. Particularly for young horses who are still developing every bit of energy they can get to help with growth and muscle building is important. Therefore its important that we take measures to ensure that each horse has to put as little into keeping warm as possible.

During the colder months horses naturally grow longer, thicker coats, to help keep warm. The trouble is that we are also exercising these horses quite hard and they can get very warm and sweaty during the training. The end result is that the horse has a damp coat for a long time as this dries and it can become matted as the sweat dries. For horses doing a lot of hard work we clip all of the excess off, for those in lighter workloads we clip off the hair in the areas most prone to sweat.  This means that the we are removing the horses natural insulation, we therefore use a range of rugs to keep the horses warm. Rugs come in a huge variety of thicknesses and materials.  On very cold nights the horses will have three rugs on, layering up being the best way to fight off the cold. Claire keeps an eagle eye on the weather forecast throughout the year to ensure that the horses are in appropriate levels of clothing. Its important to pay attention to each individual as well, some horses feel the cold more than others, a blanket approach (excuse the pun!) can leave some horses too warm. Colts always seem to need a bit less in the way of rugs than the fillies and geldings.

At exercise the horses will wear an exercise sheet, that sits under the saddle and over the hind quarters. We have two different weights the lighter ones for most of the cool mornings and the heavier ones for the coldest days. The ubiquitous Newmarket rugs with their distinct stripes are generally the heavier weight ones, whilst the lighter ones come in all shades and trainers design theirs to identify their strings – ours are a dark blue with a silver trim.

The Staff

It would be remiss not to mention the staff on the cold mornings, although physical work keeps you warm out on the yard, riding out can be hard work. A lot of the time riding out one isn’t moving a great deal and its hard to keep the circulation going, also too much bulky clothing makes it hard to move, and things like thick gloves make it tricky to have that all  important feel through the reins. Still modern materials make life a lot easier than in years gone by, layers are key! Hopefully the buzz of riding these athletes is enough to overcome the short term pain of that numb feeling in the toes.