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Horse Training

( Originally Published 1898 )

TRAINERS—As a rule the trainer has worked his way to the position he occupies after apprenticeship as a jockey. In very many cases, having become too heavy to ride on the flat, he has afterwards taken to riding over a country ; for under the National Hunt Rules, which govern steeplechasing and hurdleracing, the minimum was an irreducible 10 stone until within the last two years, when, though only for handicap steeplechases of three miles and a half or upwards, a minimum of 9 st. 7 lb. was introduced. Of the principal trainers now in active pursuit of their calling, those who acquired a knowledge of the business in the manner indicated include Charles Archer, Joseph Cannon, Tom Cannon (who, however, only rode as a jockey on the flat), Richard Chaloner, George Chaloner (a flat race jockey only), E. Craddock, S. Darling, H. Escott, Fallon, Holt, W. A. Jarvis, T. Jennings, jun., James Jewitt, the Hon. George Lambton (exclusively an amateur rider under National Hunt Rules, or on the flat for the clubs to which he belonged), F. Lynham, R. Marsh, W. Mumford, A. and W. Nightingall, John Osborne (on the flat only), John Porter (on the flat), J. Prince, W. F. Robinson (on the flat), and F. Webb, the last named having ridden in the Grand National, though only on one occasion. There could not be so good a way of obtaining practical experience of every detail of the sport ; for no one can tell the condition of a horse better than the jockey who rides day after day and year after year ; and to get a horse into perfect condition is the aim and end of the trainer's art. At the same time, that this apprenticeship is not essential is proved by the successes, for example, of the famous Dawson family. The four brothers, of whom Matthew and John are happily still busily engaged in their profession, and the two sons of the latter, John and George, have for a long time past most successfully superintended large stables of horses, George in particular having been associated with many notable triumphs, for he was fortunate in finding animals of especial excellence—Ayrshire, Donovan, Semolina, Memoir, Mrs. Butterwick, and Amiable, all classic winners under his control.

The modern trainer is a far more prosperous person than the old training groom ; but if his rewards are higher he has more work to do in the majority of cases, for racing has enormously increased during the last half century; usually trainers have a larger number of horses to look after, and it is a common thing for owners to rely much in some instances exclusively on their trainer's advice as to when horses shall be engaged and which of the engagements they shall fulfil. Making entries, striking horses out of stakes for which they are not to run, sending them about the country in all directions, finding jockeys to ride, are all duties which require anxious care; and then there are the yearly sales at Ascot, Newmarket, Doncaster, and elsewhere. Some owners recruit their stables entirely from sales, nearly all buy occasionally ; and it is part of a trainer's business very critically to look over what is to be sold, estimate the value of the animals, and advise as to what may judiciously be bought. The opinions of experts, it may be remarked, differ very widely on the subject of yearlings. Some trainers good judges and in all honesty will strongly recommend their employer to buy horses which other trainers equally capable men and actuated by the best motives regard as worthless, and beg their masters not to bid for. This may be partially due, no doubt, to prejudice against sires or dams or strains of blood ; there may be a suspicion, more or less well founded, that the stock of a certain horse exhibit a tendency to " make a noise," that the progeny of a certain mare are " soft," that hereditary bad temper will break out or that some defect is likely to show itself ; but, apart from this, in examining the animal one trainer will see some fault coarse hocks that threaten to be curby, badly shaped, feet, a jowl which suggests roaring, lightness of bone, uprightness, hocks too far back, want of length, or one of a score of weaknesses which will escape other eyes or will be set down as unimportant. "A nice compact horse," one man will say. "Too set and furnished; no room for improvement," will be the verdict of another. "Too small ; nothing of him," A. will decide, turning from some youngster that is being led round. " Very well shaped colt ; good bone ; I like him ; he ought to grow into a very useful sort of horse," B. will observe. It will be found that there are two ways of regarding almost everything that is inspected. When owners have many horses, a very large sum can be annually saved by keeping a careful eye on the Calendar and paying minor forfeits for animals which it is 'certain will not be sent for races in which they are engaged. By inattention to this matter a wellknown trainer who died not long since annually cost his employers many hundreds of pounds. Of course this was the fault of the owners for not looking into the matter themselves; but, as so many gentlemen do, they left the matter in the trainer's hands and continually found when too late that they had to pay for his carelessness. If the owner breeds for racing, again, it frequently happens that the trainer is called in to superintend that department, also to advise as to mating the mares, to see that they have all possible attention at critical times, and to keep an eye on the foals when they are born.

Many persons imagine that the trainer's duties consist in riding out on a well-broken hack to look after his string at exercise in the morning, and say which are to canter and which to gallop ; in going round the stable once a day, accompanied by the head lad, who will be ready to answer all questions ; and attending race meetings where he may look on at, or occasionally assist in, saddling his horses when they are about to run. He is supposed by the outside world to have an almost positive knowledge of what is going to win; so that he can bet as much as he pleases, with a comfortable conviction that he will make a great deal of money, and can experience no possible disappointment or vexation in this matter, except, indeed, habitual displeasure at the shortness of the price which the ring will lay against his "certainties." It seems such easy work to canter over the heath or the downs, to inhale the fresh morning breeze, to watch, chatting to a friend, while the string come past, beckoning with his whip for some to go a little faster, or raising his hand to check the pace of others. Then there is the pleasurable excitement of the trial, in which, of course, the right horse always wins with ro lb. more on his back than the touts can possibly imagine he carries ; and so back to a luxurious breakfast,after wiring off in cypher to make arrangements for winning a fortune on the good thing just brought to light—a meal made more enjoyable by perusal of sporting journals, full of compliments on his skill, astuteness, and the perfect manner in which yesterday's winners from his stable were turned out.

That is the conventional view, and it is not entirely accurate. The trainer may not improbably have been kept awake half the night wondering whether he dare " go on " with the Derby colt, or the favourite for some big race on which he has invested money he cannot afford to lose. The animal's shortened stride in his gallop yesterday was not to be mistaken, and certainly there was something suspicious in the manner in which he walked away afterwards. Shall he stop him, or chance it? This worry is increased by perplexity as to whether his most promising two-year-old —so charmingly shaped, with such perfect action—did or did not whistle—or worse—as she passed him. Was it the beginning of a "noise"? The boy "did not hear anything," but he is stupid; a jockey shall be put up when they next go out, she shall be sent a good gallop, and he will find out the worst. The morning, when it dawns, is dull and dispiriting ; he rides out in the drizzle, gallops the two-year-old, and discovers a fact too surely confirmed by the jockey that she does make a noise ; the Derby colt, there can be no further doubt about it, is lame ; and a horse which is well in in a little handicap next week, with nothing to beat, in fact, coughs badly several times. Breakfast is not made more agreeable by the Calendar, which shows that two horses which have been entered in forthcoming handicaps can have no possible chance, two or three belonging to other stables being " thrown in," and by some irritating remarks in a newspaper to the effect that a horse which he ran yesterday, knowing it to be in perfect condition and believing that it could not lose, had, in the opinion of the critic, evidently been galloped to death, could obviously from its appearance have had no chance, had doubtless left the race on its training ground; "but if trainers will try their horses every other day, they must expect," &c., &c., with a hint to conclude with—not impossibly the critic had lost money on the horse that it may not have been the animal's " day out," it may do better later on; a suggestion, in fact, that it was not trying. A grumbling letter from his employer, an intimation that the only light-weight jockey who could "get out" a troublesome horse, a lad he supposed he had definitely engaged, will not be able to ride ; and the bad news that his best foal had been kicked and had her leg broken a filly that would have been worth a handsome price for the paddocks if she never won a race make up a companion picture which is very often the truer one of the two.

Much more of the trainer's business is done in the stable than the outsider would suppose. He must, if he does his work thoroughly, study and get to understand the peculiarities of every horse under his charge. So many feeds a day, consisting of so much hay and oats, will not assist the purpose; in certain cases food must be varied if the best results are to be obtained, and there are many examples of horses that have not done well on ordinary diet thriving on very unusual varieties of food. His knowledge of the structure, anatomy and constitution of the horse must be practically complete, and more than this, of the varying constitutions of different horses ; he must be, in fact, a thorough "stableman," which is another way of saying a veterinary surgeon. The professional M.R.C.V.S. is called in at intervals ; but unless operations of some sort have become necessary, the chances are that the trainer knows quite as well as the "vet." what is wrong, and how the ailment had best be treated ; if the two differ it is far from certain that the man with letters after his name is correct ; but he is consulted mainly for the satisfaction of the owner, who may complain, if anything goes wrong, that the " best advice " was not obtained. The trainer's first essential is to be a judge of condition. Some horses thrive on little work, run better when rather "above themselves in condition"; others, gross horses, require a great deal more exercise to make them really fit ; and the position is complicated by the fact that some animals look perfectly trained, or even light, when they are not really "wound up," and, as the expressive phrase goes, "clean inside." It is necessary, therefore, to find out exactly what work is required by each horse. There are some points upon which the most knowledgeable and experienced owners are almost bound to seek their trainer's advice ; for the man who has charge of the horses naturally sees much more of them than the man to whom they belong. The trainer, for example, is best able to judge over what distance of ground a horse is likely to be seen to the greatest advantage, that is to say whether or not he stays. This he judges from the way in which the animal does his work. This is a more difficult process than the inexperienced might imagine. " If you want to find out whether a horse can get a mile and a half, gallop him the course and see," would be the simple philosophy of the unpractical ; but he may get a mile and a half when he has done work over something like the distance, and the question is whether it is worth while to train him and try him for such a course with the not improbable effect of impairing his speed if he is in truth not even a miler. The owner, if he has any familiarity with the sport, will see whether his horse appears to finish his races strongly, to be "running on" at the end, and will draw his own deductions ; but on the all important question of an animal's best distance, the trainer will almost certainly be the safer guide. He must also necessarily be a sound judge of pace and of riding, or else his trials are likely to be very wrong and his reading of public running likewise much at fault. He must be sure whether a trial is run at a good pace, or whether the boys have been able to "get out" their horses whether, in fact, it has been the equivalent of a true run race. To him generally falls the important duty of giving the jockey orders how to ride after or without consultation with the owner according to circumstances. If the trainer has not a keen appreciation of horsemanship, subsequent confusion is likely to arise, as he will not know what his horse had in hand if he wins, or what happened in the course of the race, whether any legitimate excuse can be found for defeat, if he was beaten ; and it is very desirable that the trainer should form his own opinion instead of depending upon the explanation of the average jockey, who, for instance, if he did not get well away when the flag fell, will be found not inapt to declare that he was first off. Some jockeys can and will give a trustworthy account of what has happened in a race, but these are a very small minority, for by no means all of them possess sufficient keenness of observation to take in what other animals are really doing, and if they themselves have done anything clumsy or stupid in the race they will not improbably find an excuse in some misleading explanation. The trainer's work is unending, and it is rather the custom to ignore his labours and to underrate his share of success when it is achieved. The jockey who has narrowly and luckily escaped defeat by a head when he would have won comfortably by a couple of lengths if he had done justice to the horse and obeyed orders, is eulogised for having ridden a brilliant race ; while the labour of the trainer, who has overcome many difficulties in bringing the animal to the post fit and well, is too often lightly esteemed, or accepted as a matter of course. Appreciation of a handicap is another requisite, that the trainer may perceive what chance his horse has, and if it is desirable to accept. Few professions are, indeed, more arduous, anxious, and responsible.

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