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Why it might be better to start racehorses at 2

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One of the biggest arguments horse lovers have against racing is that they start training them so young. We have a much better understanding of how young horses develop, the impact overworking them can have on the bones before the growth plates close. So we are probably a lot more careful and probably take training much slower than we used to with our horses. This is a great thing for horse welfare. So it is understandable that we worry about the negative impacts of training young horses to race. But it might actually be better to start racehorses at 2.

Horses develop quicker than humans

This is based on a few factors, but it is largely due to how all animals grow. Thoroughbreds are aout 94% of their full height at 12 months old, around 3% of their lifespan. Humans get close to their full height at around 23% of their lifespan. Therefore it is hard to compare human years and development to horses which I think is where a lot of us have a problem.

Before horses reach sexual maturity (9-15 months old) the bones go through modeling. This means they can change and adapt based on their environemnt and workload to cope with their life needs. After maturity, remodeling bone to cope with work loads is a much longer and less successful process.

By resting our horses, or not training our horses, until they are 3 years old or older, you are training their bodies for life in the field. For leisure horses and some sports horses this is probably absolutely fine, their future career will be less strenous. But for racehorses, this means they are not going to be built for racing the same way they would if they had already been in training. So a horse who starts racing later in life, is potentially more likely to suffer injury due to their skeleton not being as well developed as the horses who started racing at 2.

Data suggests it is better to start racehorses at 2

The data backs the idea that it is better to start racehorses at 2. The Equine Injury Database has shown that 2 year olds have significantly less fatalities than 3 and 4 year olds. Early data also suggests that horses who raced at 2 are less likely to have career ending injuries in later life than those who did not race as a 2 year old.

But it’s not just career ending injuries, a 2008 study found that horses who raced as 2 year olds had more starts and almost double the lifetime earnings than those who did not race at 2. This suggests that horses who race at 2 are not only more likely to stay sound and racing fit for longer, but also perform better with a higher % of top level race winners having raced at 2.

All of the studies, annecdotal data and our knowledge of horse anatomy suggests that horses who start racing at 2 are more successful with longer careers. But more importantly, they are less likely to develop work related injuries than those who started racing later in life. But it is important to remember that horses are all individuals are there will be some horses, especially those born later in the year, who are not physically mature enough to begin racing and doing so will predispose them to injury. So overall, it might be better to start racehorses at 2.

Last Updated on 27/09/2022

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