Study: New Zealand Standardbred Trainers Use Physical Maturity As Training Benchmark

The majority of Standardbred trainers in New Zealand train their horses for education, rather than with a focus on racing, a new study shows.

Massey University researchers Kylie Legg, Erica Gee, Charlotte Bolwell, Janis Bridges and Chris W.Rogers also found that training patterns used by both public trainers and licensed-to-train trainers were influenced by the physical maturity of individual horses. Licensed-to-train trainers are amateur trainers who have registered with the harness racing governing body to train their own horses; they may not train more than four horses that they don’t own.

The researchers used an online survey, which was completed by 154 trainers; 57 percent of the trainers had 2-year-olds in training. These trainers were the focus of the study—exactly half of these trainers were public trainers; the other half were licensed-to-train trainers.

The main difference the researchers found between the two trainer categories was that public trainers were more likely to record the times of the horse’s workouts and to use the banked corners of the training tracks.

The majority of the horses in the study were bred by the person who trained them. Most public trainers broke the horse themselves (85 percent), compared with 64 percent of the licensed-to-train trainers.

Most trainers used a half-mile, oval track to train; the majority of the tracks had, dust, sand or an all-weather surface. The vast majority of public trainers (88 percent) used tracks with banked corners. Only 59 percent of amateur trainers used tracks with banked corners. The percentage of horses that took breaks from training for recovery or illness was low: 9.1 percent.

Every trainer responded that they chose to begin breaking a horse as close to 18 months old as possible. Some horses received just four weeks of training while others received eight. Most trainers then gave the horses a break of about 6 to 12 weeks before they began training in earnest.

The scientists concluded that there were many amateur breeder/trainer/owners with between two and six horses in work in New Zealand; few professionals had a large number of horses in their stable. Most trainers had a horse-centric approach to training, basing the training program on the physical maturity of each horse.

Most trainers began the training process on 2-year-olds to instill early education; interestingly not many horses then raced during their 2-year-old year, even though there has been a positive correlation between horses racing at 2 and a lengthy, successful racing career. Most trainers didn’t feel comfortable hazarding a guess on a horse’s future racing career based on their performance as a 2-year-old.

Read more at HorseTalk.

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