Marginal Gains

An interesting article was written in the January to March (2016) edition of European Trainer by Dr Catherine Dunnett regarding marginal gains in racehorse performance. The theory is that an improvement in performance can be achieved by making small, positive changes to all aspects of training racehorses.  The accumulative effect of these small improvements adds up to significant improvements in the horse’s performance. A great example of marginal gains in action was in the 2012 Olympic cycling team. “The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.” Dave Brailsford (British Cycling’s performance director).

However, in order to implement this strategy you must be willing to be self-reflective and critical of your own methods and approach to training. Identifying what needs improving and having the ability to implement change is vital in order to achieve your goals. An openness to accept constructive criticism from knowledgeable people also helps!

There are many facets to the art and science of training racehorses, so where do we start? We take a holistic approach to caring for and training our racehorses. This means considering each horse’s training programme, their nutrition and hydration levels, chiropractic/physiotherapy treatment, shoeing, field time, stabling/bedding/ventilation and our team members to mention just a few.

These categories can then be broken down further into subcategories. Let’s take hydration for example. We are always asking ourselves questions such as: Are the buckets regularly filled and are the quantities consumed monitored? Is the water always fresh (or is fresh water added to the old stale water)? Are the buckets regularly cleaned? The list goes on.

If we are answering “no” to any of these questions we need to take action to improve the situation. The more points we address the better the marginal gains. All this might seem like nit-picking (particularly regarding water intake) but in a highly competitive sport like horse racing we are looking to make any small gain over our competitors.

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