Clovis Shropshire, Gallery Sports Magazine - January 18, 2023
A horse race lasts no more than a couple of minutes. The Kentucky Derby is called the most exciting two minutes in sports, after all. For every time a horse makes it to the track for that brief dash for cash and glory many more hours are put into preparation and training.
When the time comes for a young horse to be broke, or to learn the basic skills necessary to become a racehorse, they are often sent to a training center where this training will take place. For many of the horses that race at Sam Houston Race Park or other tracks across the country, that training takes place at Highlander Training Center in Sulphur Springs, Texas.
Highlander is a state-of-the-art facility that specializes in the training and preparation of young horses for racing careers and in rehabilitating horses recovering from injury.
Horses at Highlander receive top-flight daily care, training, veterinary services, and nutrition. Not to mention routine shoeing and visits from an equine dentist. They are looked after by staff of professionals that live on site and can provide round the clock care. Three spacious barns house the horses in training or treatment, and horses that are enjoying a break in training romp in pastures or paddocks.
As their training begins the young horses are taught to accept a rider and respond to guidance in round pens equipped with synthetic sand footing designed to offer the best of support as well as reducing dust.
Tasks for these young horses are simple at first, but gradually grow in complexity. When the time comes they are taken through the finer points of racing at the on-site traditional dirt training track as well as Highlander’s 1 3/8ths mile grass gallop. They are taught to break from a starting gate and they build stamina with workouts of increasing intensity. The training program generally lasts 90 days, followed by at least a period of thirty days off. The process of creating a racehorse is a long one. The danger of an injury or setback that would delay or derail the process is very real, but every care is taken to minimize the risks.
When a two-year-old finishes his initial 90-day program at Highlander the youngster will be equipped with all the skills and fitness to be a professional race horse. Next, the horses are sent to their trainers at pari-mutuel racetracks across the country for the final touches before being entered in their first race.
Other horses come to Highlander for a layup and rest from racing campaigns. They are turned out and allowed to simply be horses for a period of time. Their days are spent relaxing in paddocks or pastures with other horses, as they enjoy time away from the rigors of the racetrack. This reset is necessary to maximize and prolong the careers of these powerful but delicate animals.
Some horses come to Highlander to be treated for injuries. A veterinarian provides regular evaluations with the use of portable x-rays and ultrasound equipment. Once a diagnosis has been reached, the horses begin a suitable rehabilitation program. They receive treatment on underwater treadmills, vibrating floor plates, or cold-water spas. The Highlander rehabilitation facility would rival anything offered to athletes in any human sport.
There is no question that Thoroughbred racing is a thrilling sport, no matter if you are a lifelong fan or a casual observer that only tunes in on the first Saturday in May. But the next time that you see the field thundering down the homestretch, take a moment and appreciate everything that each of these animals and their connections have gone through in order to get to the track, let alone the winner’s circle.