Originally Posted by Foxhunter
One of the most exciting things to do on horseback is to work the racehorses!
I am not talking about the little flat horses but the jumpers, a very different game.
To go out with a string of racehorses on a cold winter morning, just as the light is changing. Air expelled from lungs forming a mist. Horses on their toes and not wanting to hang around. Quarter rugs keeping them warm across their backs. Rider with stirrups short enough to get out of the saddle but long enough to give you a length of leg to stay in the plate.
Leaving the yard and walking along the lane to the gallop the horses are relaxed and pleased to be heading towards the gallops. The trot and canter up the hill means nothing to them, they know to save energy for when they are down the other side and going to do some serious work, a strong canter for about 10 furlongs around the bowl and then a good opener up the hill.
We set out in twos or threes, those waiting to get onto the grass gallops stand with ears pricked watching the first groups leave.
We canter single file up to where we circle left around the bowl, the horses taking a hold on the reins, riders with reins bridged drop their hands to rest either side of the withers.
The first part is easy, the horses are keen but settled, then as we swing around the bowl the ground falls away and here the horses want to go faster. Riders sit back and brace arms and legs against the horses wishes for a faster pace. Breath is steaming as is the sweat. Sheets are flapping, eyes and noses are running but it is impossible to wipe either or control would be lost.
Once around the bowl the group move upsides, staying between the markers the groundsman had set out the previous afternoon. The horse in front goes wide to allow the others to swing alongside.
Horses are high blowing and anxious to work. Hitting the marker we look at each other and ease the grip on the reins, immediately the horses leap forward, their heads go down, they are still in a strong contact with the riders hands and all are in a charge.
Hooves thundering on the grass, often frosted, snorting and blowing hard as the hill gets steeper but none willing to give in.
Once at the top of the hill the riders give freely with their hands and the horses, knowing they have finished work, willingly drop to a canter and then a trot, finally a walk to join those ahead of them walking in a large circle on a loose rein to get their breath back and cool down.
Riders, their legs and arms aching take their feet out of the stirrups and let them hang loosely down the horse's side. At some point the riders breath stops burning an throats don't seem so dry.
We walk back off the gallops and dismount at the lane and walk leading the horses allowing them to take a snatch at the grass on the banks.
No, there is nothing like galloping a racehorse that is fit and wanting to run!
Wow does that bring back the memories. Although the terrain was slightly different, I worked for an Irish stable in Virginia many years ago and we excercised the racers in the fields and over jumps almost as you described, minus the rugs.
Crisp, cool, dew covered mornings that were never hurried. And after getting a good warm up behind us, letting them flatten out a bit and race the sunrises up and over the hills.
Of course the sun always won, but it was a magical time of day to be exercising the horses.