Endurance training techniques create fitter flat racers
The sport of endurance functions on a zero-tolerance drug policy from the upper to the lower levels. It's thought that if
horses cannot complete 100 miles on their own, free from any medications, then they shouldn't compete. This has produced a
relatively "clean" sport—some really fit horses that don't need pharmaceutical help to perform and a lot of trainers who have
only a passing knowledge of how to handle the sprains, strains and other problems encountered when horses run really fast.
"Flat racing has taught endurance trainers how to use medications, not to help horses go faster as much as to help horses
heal when they get injured and make a quicker return to racing," says Hooten.
Because endurance horses must be fit enough to compete without the aid of anti-inflammatories or any type of pain relievers,
diuretics (furosemide), antiulcer medication or any performance-aiding products or supplements, there's a lack of familiarity
among those in the sport with many routinely administered drugs. Many endurance riders and trainers don't have the expertise
or ability to aggressively treat post-race problems ranging from tendonitis to sore muscles, respiratory conditions and sore
"The flat-racing world has a much longer history of dealing with injuries," says Hooten. "Racing trainers have a better established
system of diagnosis, medication, treatment and rehab for performance-related injuries."
Because of the speeds now being seen in endurance racing, the types of injuries (e.g., tendons, ligaments, bone-related problems)
more closely resemble those commonly seen in flat racing.
Martha Misheff, DVM, PhD, a veterinarian at the Dubai Equine Hospital, who spoke at the Newmarket Orthopedic Discussion Group,
says, "Many of the newer musculoskeletal injuries at endurance competitions are increasingly similar to those of racing Thoroughbreds.
Endurance horses are suffering from lameness caused by proximal suspensory desmitis, concussive foot problems such as pedal
osteitis and fractures related to stress pathology."
These are all at the top of the list for causes of lameness in racing Thoroughbreds as well, so endurance trainers have begun
using flat-racing techniques for post-competition treatments and tendon and ligament maintenance. And they're using medications
to aggressively treat problems.
The fact that no medications are allowed in the sport of endurance is an important part of what endurance racing has taught
flat-racing trainers. Endurance horses have to be, above all else, fit. This good conditioning is a big factor in keeping
these horses sound, despite all the miles they must race. If the horses are more fit, the argument goes, they won't break
down, and, thus, they won't need medication. Endurance horses tend to remain competitive for much longer than their Thoroughbred
counterparts, with many endurance horses accumulating tens of thousands of competition miles.
"Good strength conditioning and fitness from endurance-based training showed flat-racing trainers they could then take these
horses to their maximum potential speed and finish with a sound horse," Hooten says.