Organising horse races sets in motion a chain of people, all doing diverse and important jobs.
There are breeders, who ensure that racehorses are born, there are the pre-training and training professionals, the racing stables employees, vets, blacksmiths and other tradesmen associated with horse care, but also countless equipment suppliers and industry suppliers. In addition to all of these people, there are also people in charge of organisation within the Racing Companies and hippodromes, bearing in mind that harness races are run 365 days a year on a minimum of two race tracks a day.
Every race needs people, and first and foremost, horses for the people to work with. Without breeders there would be no horses/athletes. Most breeders are passionate enough about their work to breed and then keep one or two broodmares of their own (5,742 in 2014). Professional breeders tend to have bigger workforces. In 2014, there were 1,065 breeders with 3 to 5 broodmares, 318 with a stable of 6 to 10 mares and 140 breeders with 10 or more mares.
Trainers are in charge of physically preparing the trotting horses, and their performances in competitions or events. This means that the horse is entirely the trainer’s responsibility, whether it belongs to the trainer, whether he leases it or whether he is taking care of it for an owner.
The first phase of training is breaking in. It is a very important stage in the learning process and has to be done gradually and gently, to make sure that the horse will enjoy its future job as a competitor. This phase is now being handed over to pre-training specialists more and more often.
As soon as the trainer has over half a dozen horses in his charge, he generally employs staff to help him. In 2014, there were 1,621 people employed by 577 trainers (456 public trainers, 67 training licence holders and 54 private trainers). Some of these employees are apprentices and apprentice jockeys and they get the opportunity to compete in races.
In 2014, the average number of horses in the charge of a public or private trainer was 15.
Drivers / Jockeys
Drivers and jockeys are the people working with horses in competitions and so they are the last link in the chain, after the breeders and trainers. These are the people who can make or break the chances of winning a race. Just like racing car drivers, they need to be able to make decisions in a split second and they are vital to the end result of the race. 2,240 professionals hold riding or driving licenses (2014), 136 of whom are apprentices and 636 of whom are apprentice jockeys.
Vets, nutritionists and blacksmiths
Being maintained at competition level is so demanding that it is crucial not to neglect any detail. The horses are monitored like human athletes are, as regards sporting performances, health, food and nutrition. Each stable works in close collaboration with a vet, a nutritionist and of course a blacksmith. A trotter’s balance is directly linked to how it is shod. The shoes play an essential role in a horse’s gait, determining range of movement and the frequency and rhythm of the hoofbeats. Shoeing horses is an art, but it is possible for a trotting horse to run unshod in a competition, as long as care is taken.
As performance levels are getting higher all the time, there is more and more need for very specialised equipment. All of the manufacturers offer new innovations continuously, whether it be with sulkies, harnesses, walkers or horse care. The companies which specialise in training track designs also stay on the cutting edge of progress to make sure that trainers can get the best tools possible for their work in terms of surfacing and streamlining. Straight tracks which facilitate interval training are especially fashionable at the moment.
State of the art technology
Today, harness racing makes use of all of the latest technology, such as scanners, MRIs and ultrasounds to prevent trauma linked to training and competitions. Equine veterinary clinics are just as well equipped with specialist equipment and expertise as the best clinics or hospitals.
The horse industry in general and the racing industry in particular have been generating jobs for a long time. According to estimates for 2014, there were 74,000 jobs directly or indirectly generated by this sector. Direct jobs are all the ones where there is a physical and daily contact with the horses. This group includes breeders, trainers, stable employees and riders, jockey and drivers, vets, blacksmiths, owners and staff at riding schools and so on. The indirect jobs comprise all the services and sectors where people make their living from the horse industry, such as saddlers, tack makers, horse transport professionals, training and race track designers, food manufacturers and suppliers, and the media.
In the more specific field of race organisation and betting, several thousand people work in the Sociétés Mères du Trot et du Galop du GTHP (Groupement Technique des Hippodromes Parisiens) (Harness and Flat racing Parent Companies and the Technical Association of Parisian Hippodromes), in its AFASEC training schools and of course with the PMU, which is the biggest employer. The PMU has over 1,350 employees and 13,000 outlets.
The trainer plays a key role in the success of the trotter or competitor and the range of skills needed to do this is extremely wide.
First and foremost, the trainer is an astute observer, who possesses perfect knowledge of the anatomy and morphology of his charges. He is able to pick up on the slightest problem in the horses’ movements (lamenesses, in particular) or tendons, and to have good knowledge of their general condition and temperament.
On the basis of this knowledge, the trainer will create a programme specifically designed to make each of his charges into an athlete. The sporting potential of a trotter differs from one animal to the next, depending on its heart capacity, muscle capacity and gait, which are often inherited from its ancestors. The training programme also works progressively depending on the horse’s age, bearing in mind that a trotter only really becomes an adult at the age of 5. Fine-tuning the trotter’s gait is also essential, and is achieved by ensuring that the right adjustments are made to the shoes and harness (the bit, bridle, martingale, boots, etc.). Training programmes are customised for each individual horse, with factors such as physical disposition, winnings, the goals being aimed for, the time of season being taken into account...
The trainer is responsible for his charges being in good health. Any medical treatment administered to the horse must be recorded in a healthcare book which is compulsory and which must be kept up to date. No trotter may participate in a race if under the influence of any type of medication.
Professionals have help available as well as obligations to meet: they have both private and public infrastructures at their disposal to help them see the training programmes through successfully, such as boxes, tracks, walkers, saddlers, fodder storage, paddocks, lorries, and sulkies.
The last but not least of the trainer’s responsibilities is being the head of a business and managing a budget which brings in unpredictable takings that can vary from one month to the next. These takings are made up of race winnings (in the case of partial or total ownership), the trainer’s percentage (15%) and the upkeep costs which are billed to the customers or owners monthly. This relational aspect of the job is also important if the trainer wants to develop his client base to bring in more regular income. Finally, the trainer is often an employer and must assume social and administrative responsibility for his staff.
In 2014, LeTROT recorded 1,654 trainers holding licences comprising 895 public trainers, 299 training licenses, 96 private trainers and 364 training permits.
Remuneration for a professional trainer is fixed at 15% of the prize money won by the horse, according to its ranking.
The trainer /owner relationship
When a horse is entrusted to a trainer, the trainer becomes responsible for the horse and for all the relevant administrative work that needs to be carried out: commitments, contracts, declarations to run in a race etc. He also has an obligation to provide information or explanations to the owners of his charges. In this respect, the best course of action is to draw up a detailed contract between both parties, clearly defining the services to be provided.
The trainer must make sure that he is insured for any accident which may happen to the horses that he could be held responsible for, whether it happens at his property or during transportation. He is also responsible for his charges during competitions, especially in regard to anti-doping legislation. If a horse tests positive, the trainer will be held responsible.
Constantly revised training programmes
Unlike flat racing horses, where training methods for thoroughbreds have hardly changed over the last three decades, trotting horses have gone through revolutionary changes during the same time frame, with three main sequences in training.
Walking exercise: this is done at walking pace or a slow trot (less than 20km per hour) often the day after a race or a serious workout, or when a youngster is at the beginning of its learning process. The walk can last from half an hour to an hour.
American style training: this is a long workout, carried out at an average speed of 30 to 35 km per hour (1’40 to 2’ per kilometre), over a distance of 6 to 12 kilometres. This exercise is often the only one that young horses or horses going back to work take on, and it develops the depth and endurance of the horse.
The heats:these are done in a variety of ways, always after a warm-up. The distance can be in the order of 3,000 metres at speeds of between 35 and 40km per hour, (1’25 to 1’30 per kilometre) with progressive acceleration over the last 500 metres. This 3,000-metre distance can be broken down into two or three sessions or even into five or six sessions (which means 500 or 600 metres at a time). This is called interval training. The recovery time between each heat can be defined as wished. These work sessions can be done on oval tracks but also on straight tracks.
Training in a straight line and interval training have become essential training methods and are systematically used by the professionals who are at the very top of the rankings.
Horses competing in races are fed according to a specific and carefully studied nutritional plan. Similarly, extremely precise training protocols are put in place by some trainers, with follow-up on readings taken before and after the work (like Vo2 max, heart rate and production of lactic acid) and recovery programmes.
Daily anti-doping procedures
A trainer’s horses can be tested anytime: at his stables, at a race or in a qualifying event. In 2014, 14,100 tests were carried out at races, 1,901 during qualifying events and 960 in training sessions. Once an event has finished, the first five (or seven) horses systematically go back to the scales, where their identity is checked (using their passport) before they are drug tested.
In over 99% of races, the winning horse has to undergo blood and urine tests carried out in very specific technical conditions with regards to hygiene, using sealed samples and anonymous samples. Two samples are always taken in case a second opinion is needed. In a Quinté+, the first five horses are tested as well as several other horses competing in the race, at the discretion of the race stewards.
The samples taken from the horses are sent to the National Racing Federation Laboratory in Verrières le Buisson. The rules require that no trace of medication be present in the horse’s body from the moment it is declared a runner. A list of banned substances is published every year which changes with the progress made in medical and veterinary care. In France, the general doctrine is that a horse must not run if it is undergoing any kind of treatment.
If a sample tests positive, an investigation is launched within the horse’s entourage and a second opinion is called for. If this confirms the results of the first test, the horse is disqualified and may be banned from running for a period of time which will depend on the kind of substance that has been found. The trainer will be fined, and if he offends again can be suspended from working for a short or indeed long period of time. In 2014, of the 17,450 tests which were carried out, 31 came up positive in harness racing. Most of them were explained by simple human error or problems with food contamination.
The driver and the jockey
The last link in the racing chain and often the deciding factor in races. The “pilot”, whether sitting on a sulky (the driver) or in a saddle (the jockey) carries all the responsibility for the work that has been done in preparation for the race as well as the hopes of the breeder, the owner and the trainer.
The first thing the driver/jockey is asked to do is to get on well with the horse he is riding, especially if he has only met him a few minutes earlier in the warm-up heats. This osmosis is a crucial factor in the end result.
As with any competitive event, the start of the race plays an important role as the jockey or driver’s ability to get the horse into and to stick to the right tempo is essential.
As each trotting horse is an athlete with its own physical capabilities and behaviour, the driver or jockey must be able to show great ability to adapt from one race to another.
A good jockey or driver also has a good sense of the rhythm and speed at which each race will unfold, making sure that the horse has enough left to give in the final sprint. The jockey or driver’s ability to keep his partner trotting throughout the race (known as having “good hands”) is also vitally important.
In 2014, LeTROT recorded 2,097 jockey or driver licence holders, comprising 1,468 professionals, 136 apprentices and 636 apprentice jockeys.
The remuneration of a professional jockey or driver is set at 5% of the prize money won by the horse and according to its ranking.
Most people working in stables or racing will have trained as an apprentice jockey or driver which will ensure they have equestrian knowledge and basic techniques for riding or driving a horse. Young people carry out training in both schools and training stables. Depending on factors such as age and the need for professionals, a young person in training can embark on their career in apprentice races (in both the sulky or racing under saddle) from the age of 16.
The École des Courses Hippiques-AFASEC (Racing School) is a specialist organisation which offers initial training programmes directly linked to harness racing. Two diplomas can be studied for:
- The Agricultural Professional Aptitude Certificate for Stable Lad-work driver (2 years);
- The Professional Baccalauréat for Equestrian Business Management (3 years)
In total, the École des Courses Hippiques -AFASEC can deliver 5 diplomas which are recognised by the government with training available from age 14 upwards and 5 training establishments in France (Chantilly-Gouvieux, Grosbois, Graignes, Mont-de-Marsan, Cabriès). This school is associated with the Cheval Français, which is one of the founding members. See www.ecole-des-courses-hippiques.fr for more information.
The École des Courses Hippiques-AFASEC has also developed training programmes for adults who work in racing stables or in the racing environment, either as sandwich courses or short term courses. Some choose to study for stable lad diplomas.
Other educational establishments, such as farming colleges or Maisons Familiales Rurales (Rural centres) offer specialised training programmes to become lad drivers or stable-lad-apprentice drivers.
This is the person with everything starts whom in the racing industry. Without him, no racehorses would be born, generations of competitors would be discontinued and there would be no racing. The breeder is the person who owns one or several broodmares whose purpose is to reproduce the French Trotting Horse breed. The breeder may take care of the horses himself, or entrust them to a third party, which means he will be considered a breeder without his own stud farm or land.
Breeding horses is a passion that has to be signed up for long-term. A mare’s pregnancy lasts for eleven months, a foal needs to be raised for eighteen months and in the best case scenario the learning phase of training takes another year. From the moment a broodmare is bought until her offspring can enter a competition, there will be a minimum three-year wait.
Breeding also demands a lot of professionalism : knowledge of cross-breeding and genetics, daily follow-up of the mother and her offspring, the quality of the food and grass given to the horses, veterinary care and blacksmithing, to name but a few key elements.
In 2014, LeTROT recorded a number of 7,365 breeders for 15,763 mares. 4,534 owned just one broodmare, 1,308 owned two mares, 1,065 owned five broodmares, 318 owned 6 to 10 broodmares and 140 owned over 10 broodmares.
The breeder receives – for life – 12.5% of the total of the prize money won in France by the horse he has bred, in the form of bonuses. In 2014, the total amount of bonuses given out reached 30 million euros.