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Post-race rituals for our equine athletes

16 January 2024 Written by Celia Purdey

After a race, a horse’s journey doesn’t end at the finish line; it continues with a series of rituals designed to ensure their wellbeing and recovery. Having given their all on the course, the horses are taken through a routine that blends care, comfort, and necessary procedures.

Cooling down

After the adrenaline-fuelled race, the first stop for the horses is the mounting yard where they often receive a refreshing hose down if they are hot. This initial step helps regulate their body temperature and provides respite.

Return to the stalls

From the mounting yard, the horses make their way back to the race day stalls. Here, their strappers will give them a quick drink before taking them for a few cool-down laps around the Parade Ring or heading straight into the wash area for another round of hosing. The goal is to reduce their body temperature, as well as washing off the dried sweat on their coats during the race, preventing it from forming a crust and impeding the cool-down process.

Scraping off excess water

The strappers then remove excess water from the horses’ coats with a rubber sweat-scraper. This step serves a dual purpose: aiding in the drying process and preventing the water, which would now have become hot from being on the horse’s skin, from lingering.

Towel down and rehydrate

Once the initial cooling and drying process is complete, it’s back to the stalls for a thorough towel down and a longer drink. Hydration is crucial at this stage to replenish the fluids lost during the race.

Winding down with a walk

With the strapper by their side, the horses head into the ring for a further cool-down walk. This leisurely stroll allows the horses to relax and gradually wind down from the intensity of the race, while the gentle exercise also helps work out the lactic acid that can build up in muscles during intense athletic performance, just like a human athlete. Many strappers will also allow the horses to have a pick of grass in the parade area, which is another way to help them relax.

Post-race performance testing

If the horse has won or been designated for performance testing, a swabbing attendant will accompany them throughout these procedures. Then they will head to the vet block to have their urine or blood tested (or both) for post-race analysis.

Homecoming rituals

Upon leaving Flemington and returning to their own home stables, the horses get to indulge in some comforting rituals. A visit to the sand roll provides them with an opportunity to stretch and scratch, a luxurious prelude to bedtime. The sand is brushed off, and some may even receive another gentle hosing before settling into their box or yard for the night. Some trainers may elect to put ice boots on their legs for a short period to help aid recovery, with the option of a cool clay-based poultice spread over their lower limbs also aimed at speeding up the recovery process. These proactive practices are routine for many trainers to optimise recovery.

Night-time comforts

In their box or yard, the horses are given a generous serving of hay and their regular grain mix, along with unlimited access to water. Depending on the weather, they may be rugged up for added warmth. A final cuddle and pat from their strapper concludes the day before the strapper heads home, leaving the horses to rest and recharge.