Developing through dressage

24 June 2022 Written by Patrick Bartley

Incorporating other disciplines such as dressage into a racehorse's training routine can reap big rewards. Just ask Melbourne Cup-winning trainer, Mike Moroney.

On most of his trips home to New Zealand, Flemington trainer Mike Moroney would always allow time to see his daughter, Aliesha, perform in the dressage ring in some of the most competitive levels of horse riding.

Aliesha Moroney is one of the most decorated horsewomen in New Zealand and has thrilled her very proud father with her exploits on the international stage.

Moroney, who spent countless hours watching his 34-year-old daughter take her horses through painstakingly difficult disciplines, began wondering if the concept could be used in some measure in horse racing.

“The idea came to me after watching Aliesha and the work they put their horses through and their certain drills that keep horses thinking. I thought, maybe this could be brought into training a thoroughbred racehorse,” Moroney said.

“So I began investigating some riders back in Australia who could test horses in the dressage ring and then follow the effect it has on them overall.

“As a horse trainer, you’re always looking for an activity to distract the horse, sort of take their mind off the humdrum of working and going back to their box.

“So I started to use the dressage as part of a few horses’ work. It was astonishing. The horses matured mentally and physically, seemingly overnight.”

Members of Moroney’s team are given a break from the daily routine of slow work that can become tedious. Instead, they have a morning or a few hours doing dressage.

“It’s a very fundamental philosophy. In dressage, the horses are taught to use all of their body. Every limb is important and that strengthens the gait. This gives the horses, especially the young ones, an ability to change legs in a dressage discipline. So when they come back to the races, a trotting gait is perfected,” he said.

“You’ll often hear jockeys and trainers and for that matter, owners, cursing the fact that their horses have lost their way by changing leg mid race.

“But thanks to dressage, where every 20 metres they’re hopping on and off legs, it becomes second nature.”

The multiple Group 1-winning trainer said that he has a long list of horses that he’s managed to improve by a week or so of dressage.

“There’s horses like Emissary, Hangman, Bermadez and Buffalo River … and the list goes on,” he said.

These days, Aliesha Moroney has scaled back her dressage work following the birth of her two daughters. And even at their young ages, they are now being enticed into the world of dressage.

“The young girls, my granddaughters, are only four and two but they can’t wait to get on their ponies and be part of the action. I suppose with their father being a jockey, their mother being a dressage champion and their grandfather holding down two stables in New Zealand and Australia it was pretty much in their blood,” Moroney said.

“These days Aliesha is breeding warm-bloods, an extremely popular breed especially in Europe, but they are getting somewhat of a following here in Australasia. Aliesha has bred a number of them over the last few years.

“They’re a much stronger, harder horse, but the principle is still the same. Dressage makes the horse think about carrying their body when they are moving.”

Moroney, who most recently won the 2022 $1.5 million Group 1 Yulong Stud Newmarket Handicap at Flemington on Super Saturday with Roch ‘N’ Horse (who did some dressage in New Zealand before coming to Melbourne) believes that applying racehorses to dressage is not his own secret weapon.

“You can come down to Flemington at the end of trackwork and you’ll see Chris Waller use the centre of the racecourse for a dressage session after a morning’s work,” he said.

“He’ll put most of his Melbourne team through the system and you can see why he’s Australia’s champion horse trainer.”


Credit: Images courtesy of Darryl Sherer