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Thoroughbred Training: How Do Yearlings Become Racehorses?

Birdstone/Pearls and Colonel John/Doc's Destiny fillies in Ocala

October 09, 2013 · By Erin Birkenhauer · Share

Have you ever wondered about the journey Thoroughbred yearlings take to become racehorses? Watching an immature yearling learn their lessons and transform into a racehorse is a very rewarding part of Thoroughbred horse ownership. The amount of growth and development that takes place over a few month period at a training center is fascinating.  


In West Point Thoroughbreds racing partnerships, our youngsters get their start with Kip Elser in Camden, South Carolina.


The vast majority of our yearlings are purchased at public auction, so they’re used to being handled, walked, groomed, bathed, etc. when they arrive at the training centers.


“Most of the yearlings on my farm come from the sales,” says Crupi. “That makes it very easy to start the training process with them because they’re used to being handled every day. Our philosophy with horses coming from the sale is to ‘go right on with it.’”.


The video below shows footage of our yearlings under Kip Elser’s care in the early training stages:




The Process....


Yearlings learn to accept:

  • - bridle and headstall
  • - surgingle on their back (teaches them to accept girth pressure)
  • - saddle and girth
  • - weight of a rider (first step is to “belly-up or lay across the horse’s back in the stall)

How long does it take for them to have a rider on their back? Typically trainers give yearlings a week or two in the stall to get used to wearing a bridle and saddle before introducing weight on their back.


“Once they’re used to the weight of the rider in the stall, they start walking the shedrow,” says Elser. “We’ll also lunge them in a roundpen so they learn how to breathe and move with tack on. Then they move outside to the roundpen with the rider on their back.”


Once a horse learns to steer and respond to the rider’s aids in a small paddock, they begin jogging in a big, open field or a small training track depending on the facility. They spend a few weeks building a foundation jogging before moving on to galloping. Gate training and getting used to the pony horse also become part of the training process.


“Our young horses spend quite a bit of time at the gate,” says Elser. “At first we start by walking in and out in a relaxed, stress free manner. Then they learn to stand quietly both by themselves and alongside other horses. Once they turn two, they start learning to break and gallop out of there.”


Every horse is an individual. Our trainers keep a watchful eye on both the mental and physical development of each of the horses. Once they turn two, the most precocious and  advanced members of the class start very easy speedwork. They gradually pick up the pace in their gallops before “breezing” an eighth of mile. Most of our horses work their way up to three or four furlong workouts before shipping to their respective trainers.


“We let the horse tell us when they are ready to do more,” says Crupi. “There are a lot of factors that go into determining when to take the next step with a young horse. They need to have their head in the game and be paying attention, eat well, be in good health, etc. Sometimes you’ll see horses with “baby” issues like bucked shins and splints that require you to back off. We try to get a few solid breezes under their belts before they leave.”