Training---the conditioning of the racehorse, can never be underestimated in its importance to the performance of that horse in competition. No matter how sound, how talented, how well bred your animal may be, that animal will always finish up the track without a proper conditioning background. One may know all of the herbal treatments and mysteries of keeping the performance horse perfectly sound, but without conditioning that animal will be doomed to failure on the track and ultimate lameness off. I have spent my entire life in the pursuit of conditioning horses to win. My idols, my role models of that life are several horsemen of the old school. All dead. They are all from a different era of training thought. I mourn their passing and the passing of their common sense conditioning philosophy.
The Hall of Fame trainers: Joe O'Brien (harness), Ben & Jimmy Jones (runner), Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons (runner), and Woody Stephens (runner) were extraordinary men from the old school of conditioning. I had the luck to personally know and work under O'Brien. Fitzsimmons, the Jones boys, and Stephens, I can only admire from afar and pay homage here. All of these men understood that horses should not be coddled, if they were to perform to their limits on the track. They understood how important a foundation is in honing speed and insuring soundness. They understood that discipline on the part of not only the horse, but the trainer was paramount. They knew what Over-training really was, unlike most of my modern contemporaries. Over-training is so often thrown around by horsemen and the racing media that its true meaning has long departed any common thread of physiological truth. I secretly laugh whenever I hear a runn'n horseman say his horse is "sharp and sittin' on a win"--just because he was bucking and squealing on the walker or lead shank. These trainers don't have a clue what fitness really is. Truth be known, the fit horse is quietly composed like a steel spring while he is being walked. He never squanders energy by bucking and playing. You can often see an amusement in his eyes, but seldom will he act a fool. This is a distinction that is hard to differentiate by many horse people. The old timers knew how.
John Splan in his 1889 training text writes: "I think the tendency of most people is to overwork their horses--that is, they give them too much work at a high rate of speed. If you confine yourself to a working gait it will be almost impossible to overwork a horse." I marvel at the elegant simplicity in the truth of those two sentences. It will be almost impossible to overwork a horse at moderate to slow speeds. How true! Unfortunately, most modern race horsemen are speed oriented. They have no appreciation for the vital nature of slow speed track work--of slow jog miles in the case of the harness horse or gallop miles in the case of the thoroughbred. Speed Kills. A solid foundation of gallop miles (thoroughbreds) or jog miles (harness) can never be overestimated in importance. To take this foundation building further, slow breezes (thoroughbreds) and slow training miles (harness), should likewise, not be overlooked or skimped. On the other hand, morning bullet works--few horses need, though brilliant times do wonders for egos all around. One often hears that much hackneyed phrase: "Oh, he races his horses into shape." or "This horse will not train of a morning. He has to be raced into shape." Well, this practice may be all well and good when applied to only high speed works, but is deadly if that animal does not have the slow track works to support this racing into shape. Psychologically, the damage of racing a young horse and even an older seasoned horse without the proper training foundation can be devastating to that animal. Extreme, bone breaking fatigue can rip the heart right out of the unprepared race horse. Honesty and guts are the two coveted traits in a race horse that are the hardest to find and the easiest to extinguish.
My text, A Racehorse Herbal, will study the training methods and philosophies of preparing both the harness and thoroughbred race horse through the 19th and early 20th centuries. I will study how racing has changed with trends of shorter and shorter race distances with longer intervals between races. I have always been a proponent of route racing, particularly at the classic distances in thoroughbred racing. Unlike many authors, I have the experience to back me up. One of my better achievements was of an old claiming horse. I bought for $900. Misty Rumor, by the Oklahoma sire, Spread the Rumor, who lowered two track records for me at a mile & half at the Woodlands Race Course and the two miles at Prairie Meadows.