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Ant Middleton on thoroughbred fitness

Feeling the need to get up and go?


Ant Middleton, Chief Instructor on SAS: Who Dares Wins visited Newmarket and Epsom Downs Racecourse last summer to find out what it takes to train a winner. What can you learn from the ultimate equine athletes?


Racehorses need to be primed to be at their peak on raceday, but how is this achieved and what can human athletes take from this. His conclusions may surprise you!


“Understanding what makes horses race-ready and ultimately Derby winners has been fascinating." Ant said when we caught up with him.


"The overwhelming learning from my time with Michael Bell, his team and his elite horses, is that routine, balance and a calm environment are integral to producing a winner”.



Ant’s key findings:

1. Calmness

Be calm, mindful and apply less stress on your body to benefit all areas of your life. Horses are trained so they don’t know it’s work, with minimal stress in a serene environment. Use your fitness time to also unwind, de-stress and relax. Learn what works for you to achieve a calm mind and more relaxed state and try different options like pilates or yoga. Respect your body and only push it so hard in training to ensure it is event day-ready. Injuries, strains and fatigue will not help you achieve your goal, whatever it may be.


2. Routine

Whether it’s just for general fitness improvement or a specific event and challenge, create a structured disciplined training plan. Build this into your home and work day so it’s not insurmountable and consider short bursts - 30 minutes at lunchtime, for example. Racehorses are trained with clear routine and rhythm from their meal times, to cardio work to schooling and they thrive on keeping their routine the same. On racedays this is also important. We can learn from this by sticking to similar wake-up times to reduce tiredness and improve productivity.


3. Consistency

Training consistently and eating well will undoubtedly lead to better performance and wellbeing. My recommendation would be to aim to stick to your meal and activity plans 90% of the time and allow 10% room for a day off. Like racehorses, include plenty of water and nutritious food in your diet. When it comes to event days - ‘racedays’ - it’s even more important to keep the nutrition routine that works for you consistent so that you perform at your best.

Health consistency should also be monitored. Racehorses have regular check-ups with a vet and undergo physio work, including treadmill time for those who may be not gallops-ready, or swimming time to help renew and repair. There is also a large set chunk of time each day specifically for rest and recovery in their stables. This is something we are generally not as good at, remembering to take care of our bodies from a rest and recovery perspective. I’d love to have a daily medical check!


4. Adaptability

Remember you are not the same as anyone else and this relates to your training. Like us, no two racehorses are the same and after speaking to Tattersalls, Europe’s largest bloodstock auctioneer, in The Jockey Club Rooms in Newmarket, it became clear a huge part is played by genetics and breeding. It’s key to know how to finely tune your engine and play to its strengths. I would recommend an all-round fitness program to get to know your body and then focus on those forms of exercise more suited to you than others, to improve your wellbeing.


The psychological side is also key, trainers spend time ‘reading’ the horse, observing when it is calm and ensuring their routine keeps this equilibrium perfectly balanced.  Physiologically some horses need more schooling to help with their technique and others more treadmill time. Michael treats each horse as an individual helping to prepare them in advance and on the day to be as comfortable and ready as possible.


5. Physical training

You may not realise but there are numerous elements to a racehorse’s training regime which we already do. Adhere to the seven guidelines below for a balanced training framework:


  1. Gallops HIIT
  2. Schooling arena Plyometrics, alignment
  3. Horse treadmill Stamina, 30-minute running
  4. Horse walker: Park walk, 10,000 steps
  5. Sauna and swim: Swimming, pilates, yoga
  6. Rest time: At home watching TV, sat at work
  7. Raceday: Competition 10k, triathlon



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