TRAINING THE 18TH CENTURY RACEHORSE

As I have stated in my earlier blog about the gentlemen of the 18th century, both in England and the colonies, is that they were a tough and fast-living breed who admired no virtue more than “bottom.”

Bottom is a rather nebulous term but we may safely conclude that it was defined by courage, stamina, and an outright dogged tenacity – the ability to “take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.”

The horseraces of the early 18th century were grueling feats of endurance for horse and rider often over a course of sloping heath rather than the evenly graded racetracks of today. The horses ran multiple heats of three to four miles with only a thirty to sixty minute break for rubbing down in between.

The training methods employed to condition a racehorse would certainly be considered cruel by today’s standards. “Sweating and stoving” was the custom of the day. Most horses in the earlier part of the century were stabled in dark, low-ceilinged, vent less stables and blanketed sometimes with two to three layers of “rugs” to cover the body and often the neck. This practice  kept them in a perpetual sweat which rid the horse of virtually every ounce of fat.

These horses would be exercised with long, hard runs, often while wearing their rugs, returning to the rubbing house where the grooms might scrape buckets of water from their lathered hides. Once cooled and dried after the run, new rugs would be donned and the horses returned back to their boxes.

The earlier Thoroughbreds were lean and near emaciated but with gleaming coats as they were constantly shedding from the heated environment in which they lived.

Many curious and unexplainable practices are documented in Richard Seymour’s THE COMPLEAT GAMESTER , 1754: (excerpt)

His Exercise ought to be thrice a week, and it must be more or less, according to the Condition of his Body;for if it be foul, exercise him moderately to break his Grease; if clean, you may do as you think fit, having a Care that you discourage him not, nor abate his Mettle;and after every Exercise, give him that Night , or the next Morning, a Scouring… (recipe follows) This is an excellent Scouring, and a good Remedy for all internal Distempers.

Now after Exercise, cool him a little abroad before you bring him home, then house him and litter him well, rubbing him with dry Cloths till there be never a wet Hair about him, then clothe and wisp him well.
Here not, before you air your Horse, it will be requisite to break a raw Egg into his Mouth for it will add to his Wind. If he be fat, air him before Sun-rise, and after Sun-set; but if he be lean, let him have as much Comfort of the Sun as you can. Coursing in his Cloths sometimes to make him Sweat is not irrequisite, so it be moderately done; but when without his Cloths, let it be sharp and swift.

Let his body be empty before he courses and to wash his Tongue and Nostrils with Vinegar, or to Piss in his Mouth e’er you back him, is wholesome; having cours’d him, cloth him after he hath taken Breath, and ride him home gently.
 

“Cloathed” horses exercising on the heath.

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