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Inside Racing: Walk, Jog, Gallop, Work

Why Do Racehorses Train The Way They Do?

by Christina Lee

For simplicity, this segment will focus on a few training terms — walk, tack walk, jog, gallop and breeze all pertain to the physical activity of the horse in “training.” These terms are used every day, from the first light of day when horses head out to go through their daily routines, to trainers outlining a strategy, handicappers when analyzing races and even post-race interviews and explanations of how races unfolded.

For example, we sometimes hear things like, “We backed him off and jogged him after his last race,” or, “He’s just come back and is tack walking,” or, “We galloped him up to the race,” and even, “We loved his last work, so we thought he would fit here.”

But what the heck does it all mean?

To start, these terms are definitions of a horse’s “gait.” A “gait” describes the biomechanical action of a horse’s travel across the ground. Humans, or bipeds, generally have a two-beat “gait” while quadrupeds, or four-legged animals, have any number of gaits and a corresponding speed for each one, which refers to the number of footfalls heard upon the ground.

Texas Red Horse

Texas Red walking outside the barn.
Photo: Lee Michaels

Walk – a four-beat gait and the slowest which requires least exertion. It is often a “recovery” gait. Generally, a racehorse walks a few days after a race or often after a “breeze.” You may hear someone say, “he walked the shedrow,” or, “he will walk a few days,” which means he will use the least amount of energy.

Tack Walk – a training term that means the horse walks with a saddle and rider on its back. Often this is used to keep the pattern of a rider on the horse, without too much exertion from the horse. Horses may be “tack walked” when coming back into a training barn or when the trainer gives the horse an easy day.

Jog – The jog or trot is a two-beat gait, meaning a horse’s one fore front and his off rear hind

Nyquist Kentucky Derby 2016

Reddam Racing’s Nyquist jogs the wrong way (clockwise) at Churchill downs under exercise rider Jonny Garcia. Photo: Coady Photography

strike the ground simultaneously. The sound creates a “one, two” beat as each diagonal pair of legs touches the earth. This is faster than a walk, yet does not require much more exertion. On the racetrack many horses “jog” clockwise or “the wrong way” on the outside rail to warm up before galloping, or simply have a “jog” day.

There are several variations of the “jog or trot” that occur in horses of all breeds, disciplines and also in racing. For American flat racing the “jog” is the most common term referring to this type of exercise.

Gallop – the fastest gait or pace of the horse. This is the primary training pace used in Thoroughbred race training. In this gait, all four legs will have a period of suspension off the ground, and a period where all of the weight of the horse is on one leg at a time, making it a four-beat gate. The way the horses’ legs and individual biomechanics is what gives the horse his length of stride in this pace. The gallop can be fast or slow. In European race training, the term “canter” is commonly used as the similar training term. The terms “canter and lope” may also refer to a slow three-beat gait or pace.

Justify galloping 4/18/18. Photo: Jim Safford

Workout/Breeze – In general, a “work” or “breeze” refers to the horse being asked to go a much faster “gallop” pace for a recorded time. The actual gait of the horse is still a three-beat gait but at a much faster rate of speed than the regular training “gallop.” Generally once a Thoroughbred begins “speed work” they will “work” every five to six days, depending on the trainers’ schedule and goals for the horse and, of course, the horse’s well-being.

Although trainers may interchange the terms “work” or “breeze” to describe the exercise a horse does, workouts also have a technical differentiation when officially recorded. The “works” for a horse are always printed at the bottom of a horse’s past performance lines. The distance and the time are recorded at racetracks and some training centers in the US. Recorded workouts for a horse at all officially recognized racetracks and training centers may also be found on websites such as Equibase.com and Daily Racing Form.

Arrogate, with Martin Garcia aboard, works a mile in 1:38 2/5 at Santa Anita Park, 2-27-17. Photo: Jim Safford

Clockers differentiate recorded works with a little “H” or “B” after the recorded time. And what is the difference between an “H” and a “B” after the workout times, you ask?

Dane Nelson, official Santa Anita clocker and timer, explains, “an ‘H’ means

‘Handily’ which is a horse who is being asked or urged (by the rider) to finish (the work). A “B” means ‘Breezing’, which is a horse that is in the bridle and finishes the work without any urging from the rider.”

Outside of California, however, these terms mean the opposite. Horses who work easily and without asking receive a “handily” notification for a workout, while horses who are urged and working receive a “breezing” tag.

 

 

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