Letter To The Editor: Why Do We Insist On Training Our Horses In One Direction?

“Imagine if you will” – Rod Serling in The Twilight Zone.

I start off with this famous phrase to get people to imagine professional track runners always training by exercising by going left only on the field track. Their competitions are left on the field track, always have been, so there would be no need to do anything else but train on that field track, always going left. Right? (See what I did there?)

Next, imagine your professional skaters — ice skaters, both figure and hockey. Anyone who has gone to an ice rink to do casual skating has been informed that after resurfacing the ice, skaters are to go the opposite direction. Imagine these professional skaters training in one direction only. Sounds absurd doesn’t it?

So why, in 2021 are we in the North American racing world still only training to the left?

Horses, even Thoroughbred horses, are trainable to both sides. I’ve done it with every horse I ever owned. Any real horseman knows this. When you lunge a horse in the round pen, you certainly don’t lunge only to the left, that would quite literally be insane and, dare I say, cruel.

A horse needs conditioning on both sides, just as a human does. And a horse, while a running athlete, is more comparable to that of an ice skater than that of a track runner. That blade that a skater glides on is comparable to the hoof on a horse. Such athletes need to be competent and more importantly physically prepared evenly or a weakness will gradually grow and hinder if not down right injure eventually.

North American race training has, for the most part, been flawed compared to that of the rest of the world. Globally, you can find horses training in all different directions on all manners of terrain and incline. I say “for the most part” because areas such as Del Mar and Ruidoso in the old days used to have horsemen who would take their athletes to the beach or into the mountains to exercise. This form of training has always been far superior and healthy for the horse as opposed to moving to the left, to the left, to the left.

Yes, there is back-tracking, but that isn’t enough physical exertion to properly even out fitness on a horse. Training needs to be revamped so as to allow reverse training, just as your local ice rink makes you reverse directions.

It would be folly for me to go even further and suggest trying some reverse racing. I know they do it “over there” but that “is not here.”

For now, can we please just consider scheduling days of left exercising and right exercising? Who knows, maybe this crazy old guy will be right and that will lead to reduced injuries to the left foreleg.

–Robert Fox, Voice of the All American Futurity for 16 years, longtime announcer, former exercise rider and trainer’s assistant.

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