Behind the Scenes of Training Race Horses

ALTOONA, Iowa  --  Horse races like the Kentucky Derby only last about two minutes, but as you can imagine, preparing to get to that race takes a lot longer. it takes a lot of people to get just one horse competition ready. From the owners, to the jockeys, to the trainers, to the groomers, it takes a lot of people to get these young horses not only in the best shape for a race but also in the right mind set.

All horses know how to run, it’s what they do, but training horses to race around a track is quite a challenge.

“They’re athletes and we have to tone their muscles and teach them. it’s mentally and physically, you also let them know what they’re here for, they have a natural instinct to run but not wide open and competitive,” Horse Jockey Ken Tohill said.

To teach them to race just inches apart, they run two or three horses against each other.

“They might bump around a little bit and just get used to being in between horses and a lot of times that’s what determines how good a horse is whether they accept all the adversity that going through a typical race,” Race Horse Trainer Kelly Von Hemel said.

The horses train on the track four to five times a week. But even on their off days they still get about 45 minutes of walking time.

“They like it outside they get a little sunshine and they’ve got a little freedom even though their hooked up, they still have a little fun out there,” Von Hemel said.

After training, the horses head to the spa.

“We brush them two or three times a day, they get a good bath every day, we comb mane and tails everything,” Von Hemel said.

Then comes food.

“Hay, alfalfa, and we’ve got a grain mixture with a lot of different vitamins and electrolytes,” Von Hemel said. “most of ours are addicted to peppermints so they get their treats every day.”

That is not the case for jockeys, who try to refrain from treats every day. On average jockey’s weight around 115 pounds. But come race day and they are a little over their ideal weight.

“We have our steam rooms and sweat boxes and come in a couple hours early and try to reduce all the water weight on your body,” Jockey Terry Thompson said.

Thompson has been a jockey for 27 years he said the race is 90 percent the horse, 10 percent the jockey, steering the horse in the right direction.

“Before the race even happens you play it out in your mind,” Thompson said. “If you break a step slow, and now two horses are in front of you and one comes up beside you and just like a car racing they’ve got you boxed in.”

Thompson said on the other hand, “some don’t want to cooperate and break fast and just want to take off wide open… they use up too much of their energy early in the race.”

And when they don’t have the best horse, jockeys rely on luck.

“The luck is when it goes a little wrong for the other guy and a little right for you,” Tohill said.