They work very hard, riding out each day in all weathers and their horses don’t look immaculate by chance! It takes hours of exercise, grooming, plaiting and hoof oiling, not to mention the occasional polo to get them looking the pick of the paddock. Here are some of the things you should be looking out for in the Paddock…
1. Condition and Coat- Racehorses are athletes; therefore you won’t see a lot of fat! However the muscles should be seen to move easily over the horse’s frame and should be in definition. The coat should have a shine, however do look closely at Greys and lighter coloured Chesnuts they probably won’t carry such a sheen to their coat, this isn’t for want of trying its just the equine version of having mousey coloured hair.
2. To plait or not to plait- to win best turned out the horse does not have to be plaited. Some horses hate having their heads touched, and some start to get excited when the plaits go in because they know that they are off to the races! If a horse is plaited there should be an odd number of small neat plaits along the neck and a plait in the front too. If the mane is left un-plaited it should be short and lies to the right hand side of the horse. If you see a horse tossing his head with a mane looking like an Arab, he will not be winning a Best Turned Out, no matter how pretty it may look to some!
3. What goes on at the rear? Doubtless at some point somebody has told you not to stand behind a horse! For racing grooms though the trust that they build up with their horses means that you may see some of the runners in the paddock bearing a plaited tail. This tail plait should be neat at the top and the rest of the loose tail should be well brushed. Whether the horse has a plaited tail or not there should be no tangles and certainly no wisps of bedding or hay in the tail
4. No they aren’t tattoos! Quarter marks are the various shapes that you may see on the horse’s hindquarters or sometimes on his shoulder too. These are usually achieved by a marker sheet being applied to the area and a damp brush wiped over against the natural lie of the horse’s hair. They are used to emphasise the horse’s engine (ie his massive muscles in the rear!). Too many quarter marks can make the horse look like a patchwork quilt, but get them right and they look very glamorous.
5. No foot no horse- the lower leg and feet of the racehorse are usually the areas that give trainers sleepless nights. The horse has no muscle from the knee or hock down, merely a mass of tendon, bone and ligaments all of which are put under strain when racing and jumping at high speed. If a horse has white markings on his legs these should be as clean as possible. A very well turned out horse sometimes has these white marks brightened with white chalk. The foot should be well shod and oiled. Some horses may have only front shoes or even no shoes at all, the latter is known as going barefoot.
6. Horse clothing- Both the bridle and paddock sheet (a coat!) that the horse wears should be clean and in good condition.
7. What are they wearing?- A well turned out horse is one thing but also the groom leading up should be tidy too! You won’t see cat walk fashions leading up because the stable staff have been madly working away in the stables getting the horse looking tip top, but the groom will hopefully have had time to brush over their boots or shoes and will either be wearing their yard’s/sponsor’s colours!
8. Would I want to own that horse?- Being judged Best Turned Out is no guarantee that your pick will win the race by a distance! However what you should be looking for is a general picture of a horse that you would be proud to own. Racing is not a beauty pageant but the time and effort put in by the whole team to get a racehorse looking in great condition at the races deserves some recognition!