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How a Horse Knows to Run

Head starter Gary Brinson and a team of 12 people teach young horses to “break,” or jump out of the gate.


"We start from scratch. At the gate, I walk a horse back and forth so they get used to the sight of it. Then we put them in the gate and open the doors easy, by hand. Let the horse see it open. If you open them too quick, it scares them. If you don’t, it makes a big bang and they throw their heads up. It takes a while to get over that. They react by the doors opening, not the bell. We put a horse in there two to four times, and get quicker each time. Then they catch on.

This is for horses that are brand-new, two- and three-year-olds that have never seen the gate.

We set the gate at the top of the stretch and practice in the morning before every racing day. The jockey’s not on them; they have an exercise boy on them.

It takes a good month or two, two to three times a week, to get settled and relaxed in the gate. Some horses take a little longer than other horses. You don’t want to rush ’em. When you start galloping them out, they’re not relaxed. If you break ’em and break ’em, they get goofy. Meaning, if he just sees the gate, he’ll get wound up and go. You want them to [approach] it and relax.

After the horse settles down, I’ll put a horse on each side of him. That’s the first time they’ve seen horses next to them. They’re scared.

They have to break good enough for us to okay them to run. If they come out slow, if I know he’s just going to walk out the gate, it’s not fair to the public.

Yeah, we’ve had a couple bad students. Everybody’s in a rush nowadays. Some horses, the owners paid $5 million or $6 million for and couldn’t get them in anywhere else. We got ’em in!”


More: Del Mar, Decoded

Horse Betting 101
What to say at the betting window »

6 Things You Didn’t Know About the Races
A little insider knowledge »

Special Events
The 2014 season runs July 17-September 3 »

The Hat Contest
What it takes to win »

Watchful Eyes
Stewards scrutinize the jockeys and horses »

What's in a Name
How horses get those unique monikers »


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