Horse Racing Trainers
Every racehorse in Britain is looked after by a trainer, who prepares it to race over jumps or on the Flat. These trainers make the day-to-day decisions on how a horse is cared for on behalf of its owner and choose which races a horse is aimed at.
Horse trainers also oversee final preparations on race day and advise jockeys on the tactics they should use to get the best from the horse. They often walk the course before racing to make their own assessment of the track conditions. In charge of stables, trainers manage a large group of staff to take care of their horses.
The size of training yards (another term for stables) varies substantially and the bigger yards are often reliant on the support of major owners. For instance, leading Flat trainer Mark Johnston, who trains at Middleham in North Yorkshire, has much of his stable taken up by Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Al Maktoum’s enormous collection of horses. Similarly, owners such as JP McManus contribute many top horses to leading jumps trainer Nicky Henderson’s Upper Lambourn yard in Berkshire.
Jockeys ride the horses on race days and often follow the instructions issued by the horse’s trainer, but sometimes they use their own initiative. Winning a race reflects well on the jockey, while losing can provoke a search for riding errors. A jump jockey’s career is usually over by the age of 40, but there are fewer falls in Flat racing and its riders can keep going for decades. Famous jockey Frankie Dettori is still winning big races in his late 40s.
On the Flat, young jockeys are known as apprentices and are given a weight allowance as an incentive to trainers to give them rides. As the number of winners they ride goes up, the weight allowance goes down. Capable apprentices can be in great demand and it is enjoyable and rewarding to try to spot promising young riders before their talent is widely noticed.
Horses carry bigger weights in jumps races, which means jockeys can be heavier. It is a dangerous sport in which injuries are common. The most famous jump jockey is Sir Anthony McCoy, who was crowned champion jockey 20 times in a row before his retirement in 2015.
These are jump racing’s version of apprentices. Like apprentices on the Flat, they are given a weight allowance as an incentive to trainers to give them rides. As the number of winners they ride goes up, the weight allowance goes down.
They aren’t professional jockeys and don’t get paid for riding. They do it for fun. Both on the Flat and over jumps, some races are restricted to amateur riders, although over jumps amateurs also ride regularly against professionals. The standard of riding has improved considerably over the last 30 years and amateurs now approach the sport in a more professional way. If their weight permits, they sometimes turn professional after a successful amateur career.
It seems unimaginable now but in 1966 Florence Nagle had to take legal action to force the Jockey Club to end its practice of refusing to issue training licences to women. Now there are a number of leading women horse trainers, including Jessica Harrington, who has won many top-level races on the Flat and over jumps.