Article Published in Horse Breeder Magazine, Fall 1990

"Training Trivia" by R. Lar Thomas

Now that you have your brand new racing quarter horse or thoroughbred, it is time to think about training it to run. Yes, most horses are capable of running without training, but it's getting them to run in the right direction at the right time that makes the difference between a running horse and a horse than can run. This is where the expertise of a seasoned horse trainer comes in.

Choosing a Trainer

When selecting a trainer, it is important to know something about the person who will be handling your horse. There are several things you must look at to determine if the trainer you're considering will suit your needs. First, is he or she reliable and trustworthy? What do the other trainers and owners think of the trainer? In short, you do not want to be surprised to find your stall empty one morning and see no sign of the "trainer" you have hired or your prized horse. Get references from others and evaluate them carefully.

Second, you need to know the essential terms under which the trainer will work for you. What are the fees? Will monthly progress reports be issued in writing? how about the care of the horse? Who will pay for feed, stabling and veterinary care as needed? You need to iron out these wrinkles if you hope to have a good relationship with your trainer.

Finally, what results do you expect? It is unrealistic to expect every horse to be a winner. Since every horse is somewhat unpredictable it is difficult at best to judge how each horse will react to various outside stimuli such as training. However, it is not too much to ask that the trainer know how to get a horse ready for the track if they hold themselves out as being able to do so. As with any rule, there is an exception. Not every horse is born to be a runner, but this should become evident early in the game.

The Training Agreement

Every training agreement should be in writing and signed by both the owner and trainer. Some important things that must be identified in this agreement are:

  1. Purpose. Make sure that both parties understand what type of training will take place. There is a great variety in methods of training. Have a thorough understanding as to how your horse will be trained and what methods will be used. Do you favor the use of hot walkers or other equipment? Who else will the trainer have working with your horse? Do you disagree with the trainer's methods or dislike the hands he hires to assist? if so, chances are that you will not get the trainer to change methods or hired help. Save your breath and find another trainer.

  2. Fees. When, where and how is the trainer going to be paid? Have a clear understanding of these things before the horse changes hands. Most states recognize a trainer's or stableman's lien whereby a horse can be sold after a certain amount of time to satisfy unpaid fees. (the same is also true for expenses). What if you should be so lucky as to have your horse win a race? Will the trainer be the one to deduct the jockey's fees form the purse? What compensation will the trainer get for having a winner? Enumerate the exact percentage that each will receive if your horse finishes in the money.

  3. Expenses. Be very specific with this category as well. State who will be responsible for specific expenses. Typically the owner will be responsible for transportation costs, veterinary ills and farrier's fees. There will also be expenses incurred for the jockey's fees, racing silks and equipment. Does the trainer have to pay the pony boy out of his own pocket or yours? Specify whether expenses will be paid as incurred, reimbursed or drawn against an account.

  4. Care. What type of care will be given? Will the horse be pastured or in a barn? What type of diet with the horse be on? Ideas on these topics vary greatly and almost all will have some merit. List the phone numbers you can be reached at in order to be kept informed. Certainly an owner wants to know if a horse has been taken out of training and for what reasons. Also make it clear that you should be contacted at the conclusion of each race and every time veterinary care is required. Just as with training procedures, know how your horse will be taken care of and by whom.

  5. Insurance. Will the horse be insured against loss? If a trainer states that he has insurance ask to see proof. Is the insurance good for losses only during transportation? Owners should have their own policies to guard against losses caused by theft, disability or death. Include an indemnification provision to insure that the owner will be held harmless or indemnified by the trainer's negligence. If the trainer is to provide insurance coverage, include a clause for reimbursement of this expense.


As with any contract, all essential terms of the training agreement must be defined. Silly as it sounds, the names of the parties entering into the agreement must be included. Generic form type contracts may only require a signature and if it is illegible it may be difficult to prove you had a contract.

Include the name, age, color and sex of the horse as well as the Jockey Club registration number, AQHA number and any other identifying marks such as lip tattoos or brands. Be specific. Though some may disagree, a lot of horses look alike. You may be able to identify your horse but that is not going to help anyone else do the same. There may be more than one bay horse at the track.

If there is a dispute as to fees or expenses provide how it is to be resolve. State whether the courts and laws of a particular state will govern these disputes or whether arbitration procedures will be utilized and who will pay for them. Spend the time and effort to get things right before turning your best racehorse over to a stranger.