When it comes to horse racing, most people will look at the form of the horse as an indication of how well it will do. The jockey’s record will also be scrutinized to discover whether a runner/rider combination is more likely to be successful or not. Obviously, these two factors are crucial to understanding horse racing. But they are not the only things that should be taken into consideration.
Newcomers to the sport may think that information about the jockey and horse is all you need to know about. But the equipment used can be crucial. This article will highlight just how important the right equipment can be – and, in particular, why saddles can make all the difference when it comes to horse racing.
The Development Of Saddles
Horse riding has obviously been around for thousands of years, as the animal was the fastest way of moving from one place to another before the introduction of motor vehicles. People will have ridden horses bareback back in the mists of time. But by about 800 BCE the first saddles were appearing.
These were probably just very basic rugs to protect the rider more than anything with. However, the introduction of stirrups in approximately 200 BCE will have had an effect on the design of saddles as well. When it was realized that short stirrups were better for horse racing, the design of the saddle changed to allow jockeys to stand up and for the horses to move easier – and faster.
Flat Racing Saddles
As more research was done into the design of saddles, it was discovered that they should be lighter and sit higher up the horse than previously. There was still a need for comfort but a lighter saddle meant a faster horse.
These older flat racing saddles looked a little like the ones used for training these days. As a horse will spend a lot of time in the training paddocks, comfort for the animal and the rider has to be taken into consideration. This meant that these older saddles were still longer than the ones we see today.
The racing saddles of the modern era are a lot smaller and lighter than those used off-track – and the ones used in the past. In fact, the modern saddle offers very little protection to the rider at all and is not used when the horse is not racing. Due to the fact that the rider is so high up the horse, there is no need for the saddle to be positioned on the back, as with a recreational rider.
The girth – the equipment that actually keeps the saddle in place – is all-important but due to trainers and jockeys wanting as little weight as possible, this is also far smaller and less secure than the ones used around the stables. Because there is a relative lack of support for the jockey when racing, they must be in peak physical condition to ensure that they can remain in what is an unfamiliar position for horse riding for the duration of a race.
How A Saddle Affects Performance
Although modern-day horse racing saddles are far more lightweight and smaller in size than non-racing models, they can still have an effect on the performance. But it is more down to the saddles used in training than in the race itself. This is because of the pressure points on a horse’s body and how a saddle interacts with the animal.
A horse will be able to run faster when there is less discomfort from any of the equipment used – but especially the saddle. Stride frequency and stride length are the key factors for improving performance and both of these can be affected by poorly fitted saddles.
By positioning the saddle correctly in training, a horse will improve its speed and performance. So, even though a different kind of saddle will be used during the race, the training put in by the jockey and the horse will help them create the optimum stride frequency when it matters.
Another way that a saddle can affect the running of a horse race is the handicapping system. Not all races are handicapped, obviously, but this leveling of the field is supposed to make for a more competitive race. To do that, handicappers will decide on weight allowances for the horses involved.
Looking at past form, all horses will receive a proportionate weight in the form of lead weights. These weights are attached to the saddle for parity. Although horses and jockeys will train with weights to get used to the feeling, it is sure to have a further effect on the way a horse can run and the resulting performance.
As in any sport, the difference between winning and losing can come down to the smallest details. Just like sprinters will work hard to shave hundredths of a second off of their personal bests to prepare for a big event, jockeys and trainers will work with their horses to ensure that they are in the best condition for a race.
This means that the equipment that is used with all racehorses can be fine-tuned and amended in an attempt to get the best out of the horse. There are plenty of other reasons why a horse will be successful – but its saddle will always play a part.