Well the Grand National is approaching. And looking at the Aintree Grand National Odds, I cannot help but think of the efforts, the dedication, and the determination of all the people and horses involved. But most of all, I think of the training.
Whenever I talk of training horses what I hear from most people are questions of movements, obedience, compliance, and precision. But to me, training starts first and foremost with physical training with regard to fitness. A horse in general will be far more compliant if he is fit by simple virtue of the fact that he is more able. And I find that I often must remind myself, when faced with recalcitrance, to first make sure that reluctance on the part of the horse is not due to a lack of fitness.
When the question of fitness comes up, there is no greater body of data than that of the various racing industries. For more information we can look at Grand National racing records, or a variety of different Endurance events, as well as past performances by such notables as the incredible Zenyatta. Looking at the performances of race horses, we can start to see the patterns of how peak performance, fitness, and most importantly, durability can be achieved. What I am most interested in is the longevity of horses in these demanding environments.
The reason I bring up Zenyatta is not just because of her amazing record. Zenyatta was undefeated for the first nineteen of her 20 starts and as a filly took on all comers on a variety of surfaces. But a careful look at the dates shows that she did not start racing until she was almost 4 years old. While most horses in the US begin racing considerably sooner. Looking at endurance horses, we begin to see the same pattern. Late starts, slow starts, as well as consistent training yields horses that move faster, perform better, and last longer.
We can also look at flat racing verses steeple chasing and oddly enough, it is well known that there are fewer injuries with jumps than with flat racing. They are also slower races. The slower times are not a surprise with the included obstacles but why the lower rate of injury? The answer is that speed kills. Slower speeds produce fewer injuries.
Sifting through the data, we can get excellent insight and validation into what we all know and have suspected all along. Slow and steady wins the race. And thus I must go back to my daily mantra that I train my horses slowly because I do not have the patience to do it quickly.