Bobby Zen

NEWMARKET, UK — The two-year-old racing and sales sector has become an increasingly expanding element of the racing world in general, but the practice of training horses at the age of two has been put under the microscope in Germany. 

A revision of German animal welfare laws means that it is now illegal to train or compete with horses younger than 30 months of age, though Thoroughbred racing is currently exempt from this law while a behavioural study is undertaken and eventually assessed by parliament.

Around 60 delegates from Europe and America attended a workshop in Newmarket last week to discuss the issues surrounding these changes to German law and their potential repercussions for the wider racing world. If the exemption is not extended beyond the conclusion of the study, which is expected to be in 2027, the German government could seek to have its 30-month rule adopted by fellow EU member countries, including Ireland and France.

Organised by Rossdales consultant and former FEI veterinary committee member Fred Barrelet, the day-long seminar featured participants from the veterinary and research world along with speakers from both racing and sport horse disciplines. Trainers John Gosden and Sir Mark Todd were among those to take the floor, as was Florida-based pre-trainer and breeze-up consignor Nick de Meric.

“This at the moment doesn’t affect Thoroughbred racing because there is a protocol that permits two-year-olds to race subject to psychometric and physical assessments by a veterinary surgeon, one when the horse comes into training and one within a fortnight of his first race,” Barrelet said. 

“This stay of execution, if you like, is in place until the results of the Project Horsewatch have been reviewed by the German ministry of agriculture and by parliament. So that’s why we are here today.”

Projekt Horsewatch has been commissioned and funded by Germany’s ministry for agriculture in an attempt to determine the age at which young equine athletes reach a sufficient level of mental and physical maturity to withstand training and competition. The eventual report and any recommendations are expected to be submitted to parliament in 2027.

In the meantime, the extra independent veterinary checks for young horses, as outlined by Barralet, have been accompanied by new rules pertaining to the size of and available light in stables, as well as compulsory daily turnout for horses in training. In German racing, two-year-olds are limited to six starts in a year and jockeys are now only permitted to use the whip three times in a race. 

German trainer Christian von der Recke, who attended Friday’s debate, said, “This was our only option, to agree to these tests, otherwise there would have been no two-year-old racing.

“The stables are measured, as well as the light readings, and horses have to be together in a field and for a couple of hours every day.”

The physical benefits of early training in Thoroughbreds have been well documented in veterinary studies, as highlighted by de Meric in his presentation.

He said, “Independently compiled statistics clearly show that two-year-old sale graduates race more often, have longer careers, win more races, more stakes and graded stakes than any other source of young racing prospects.

“In North America there has been considerable research on this subject, which clearly shows why training young Thoroughbreds is critical to their skeletal development, optimising their ability to handle the stresses of racing. 

“It is also worth mentioning that Thoroughbreds have been selectively bred for countless generations to be a fast-maturing, athletic animal, designed to race at age two and beyond. In a natural state, horses are prey animals and are typically active soon after birth, genetically programmed to keep up with the safety of the herd within minutes of foaling. During their first month of life, left to their own devices, foals exhibit a pattern of trotting, cantering and galloping in ever increasing increments. Within a week of foaling, Thoroughbred babies can cover as much as five miles, much of it at a canter, a necessary evolutionary adaptation, true of many herd animals, to evade predators.”

John Gosden, the reigning champion trainer in Britain in partnership with his son Thady, gave the opening presentation of the day and spoke of his organic approach to dealing with the horses in his care.

“With young horses I tend to wait for them to present themselves to me,” he said. “If you go looking for them, or pushing them, you will do more harm than good. I find that the most important button when I am training horses is the pause button. But if you have a horse who is precocious and comes forward to you, it is the wrong thing not to train that horse.”

He added, “You have to be careful when you say we’re not going to race at two. Bone density increases from early training.”

Former Olympic eventer-turned-trainer Sir Mark Todd drew a comparison between the training of sport horses and racehorses. 

“Most people break in event horses as three- or four-year-olds. I prefer to do it sooner, but the Warmblood is a very different breed to the Thoroughbred,” he said.

“The sooner we can educate horses the better it is for them. I use the word education as opposed to training. They absorb what they have learned when they are on a break.” 

Among an afternoon session devoted primarily to equine behaviour and the risk to the ‘social licence’ surrounding all sports involving horses, delegates heard from Roly Owers, chief executive of World Horse Welfare, which acts as an advisor to both the FEI and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). 

He said, “I felt that the one thing that was most relevant [from these discussions] was exploring awareness of changing public perception of the mental welfare of equine athletes.”

Owers praised the BHA’s recent launch of the Horse PWR website ahead of this year’s Grand National, which sought to present the facts and figures related to the importance of racing in Britain and the significant welfare efforts involved within. 

Jorg Aurich of Germany’s Graf Lehndorff Institute said of the 30-month rule regarding training of young horses, “The German ministry for agriculture has stopped discussions and has decided that there is a need for research. That has initiated a major research project, and decisions will be made once the science-based data has been assessed.”

The post German Two-Year-Old Training Permitted Under Exemption appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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