What does schooling mean in horse racing?

Paddy’s guide to schooling race horses and why the practice is important

horse racing schooling

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Training race horses is no easy task. It takes months of dedicated work by trainers and their staff to get young thoroughbreds up to the standards required to compete in horse racing.

Of course, while every effort is made to ensure a horse’s welfare, the best way to prepare them for the sport is to train them well. Thankfully there are elite-level trainers in the UK and Ireland who know how to get the best out of developing horses without harming them.

And when it comes to preparing a horse for National Hunt races, training is vitally important. After all, hurdles and fences can be dangerous for horses who don’t know how to expertly vault them. And this type of training is known as schooling, and is the subject of Paddy Power’s latest guide in our Demystifying Racing series.

So, what is schooling in horse racing, and why is it so important? Read on to find out…

What is schooling?

Schooling in horse racing refers to training a horse specifically for jumping. This will usually be both hurdles and fences, and takes into account all sorts of factors.

Horses training for the National Hunt season are usually well versed in racing, having most likely started out in the flat season when they were three-year-olds. But the older and more durable they get, the more trainers tilt the horses towards jumps.

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Regular schooling requires plenty of work to help the horse learn how to jump safely and at speed. It’s all good and well being able to vault fences but if they cannot win races then it’s a lost cause. Schooling can be difficult work for the rider, especially if the horse is new to obstacles.

It can take a long time for a horse to be schooled in such a way that it is competitive. But all horses go through the process and plenty go on to great success in the National Hunt’s biggest races, such as the Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup.

schooling a race horse

The art of schooling a race horse takes time to perfect (GETTY)

What is schooling in public?

The point of schooling is that it’s done back at the stables, where horses can learn to vault jumps safely, and with no distractions. Unfortunately, some trainers try to get away with schooling a horse ‘in public’.

Schooling in public is when a horse runs in a proper race, but isn’t pushed to compete for the win. Instead, the jockey makes sure it gets around the course safely. The reason for this is to help the horse get accustomed to racing conditions over jumps. But it also brings sporting integrity into question.

If stewards believe a horse has been schooled in public they’ll state it has “stayed on under tender handling”. Trainers can be heavily fined for this, as effectively the horse had no chance of winning – and that affects the horse racing betting.

Not only are punters understandably unhappy when they back a horse in the racing betting markets that is being schooled in public, but it’s also dangerous for the horse and those around it.

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