Racing / Ownership
Like the owners who hire them, trainers tend to be rugged individualists - strong-minded men and women who, in most cases, are self-made. Many started out as hot-walkers or exercise riders or yearling-breakers, and managed to pull away from the "pack" by sheer hard work and smarts. Competitive with one another and secretive (see chapter entitled "The Game"), they keep to themselves and run their barns like principalities.
Trainers, a proud lot, regard themselves as professionals - experts for hire - and not as "employees" in the common sense. There was a time, only recently passed, when the saying on the "backside" (common terminology for the stable area) went something like, "Owners should be treated like mushrooms: kept in the dark and fed bull..." Well, you get the idea. Fortunately, an increased involvement by knowledgeable owners, and a new breed of modern businessmen-trainers, have combined to change that attitude.
For those of us who donīt know a horseīs hock from his stifle, and would find it difficult to understand that, in horse terms, what is called a knee is the equivalent in human physiology to our wrists, we tend to look upon a trainer in the same manner as we view our medical doctors. We take their statements on faith, and pray that they make wise choices. In most cases, we donīt even know the questions to ask, much less the course of action to take.
Unlike doctors, however, even the top trainers will freely admit that the difference between an amateur and a "pro" is pretty much the quality of his guesswork. "Training" horses to win is not an exact science; it is composed largely of instinct, talent, a trained eye, a smartly-run barn, the ability to maintain relationships with volatile people over the long term - and above all, hands-on, in-the-trenches experience.
"Training" in this field, if it can be defined, is most akin to the role of an athletic coach. The trainer will help spot and "recruit" talented horses for the owner, take responsibility for the horsesī health and their individual conditioning programs, including their feed and feed supplements, any needed "sports-type" treatments such as poultices and bandaging, and an understanding of when to call for veterinary care. They keep an eye out for injuries or developing problems, monitor each horseīs mood and psychology, and give their judgment on the best workout and racing schedule for each horse. Unlike athletic coaches, however, there is never an "off-season" for the racehorse trainer. They work 7 days a week, every week of the year, and night life is a long-forgotten memory. Most successful trainers rise at 3:30 or 4:00 a.m., and often put in 16-hour days. There is a sense of "mission" about their work. Clearly, their careers as trainers are looked on far more as a calling than as a "job."
For Californiaīs almost 10,000 racehorse owners, there are over 800 state-licensed thoroughbred racehorse trainers to choose from, and although they clump somewhat into "schools of thought" and specialties, no two are alike. Finding the right trainer for you is, conservatively, more than half the battle when it comes to building for yourself a satisfying career as an owner.