The Career of a Horse Racing Trainer

Horses are very smart animals and can be trained to do many things: pull a plow, leap fences, and some, supposedly, can add numbers. Different specialists teach these horses their skills, one kind of specialist is the horse racing trainer.

A horse racing trainer is something like the manager of a horse. The trainer decides when and how the horse should exercise, oversees its healthiness, prepares it on race day, and decides which races it should run. Top trainers work with horses that are worth, or may be worth, millions of dollars. So the animals are physically scrutinized and managed as much as any human athlete. The trainer must also work closely with the jockey and receive feedback after every practice run. Usually, with high-stakes thoroughbreds, the horse racing trainer is an employee of the horse's owner, not the owner him or herself. Trainers are professionals who have generally spent most of their lives around horses.

Small Ranks

The list of famous American horse racing trainers is rather short. This is because a few superstars have dominated the rankings since the 1970. A small bunch of about 10 or 15 men train most of the country's champion thoroughbreds. Many of the top stars grew up on ranches or horse farms, often sons of fathers that were trainers themselves. So they have learned about horses from their youth, but often take a university degree in anything from animal biology to something more specific, like race track management.

Whether a university alumni or not, most trainers spend years working at master trainers' stables. Many of the most successful trainers eventually open up their own stables, and hope for promising clients. A horse racing trainer is paid a percentage of his thoroughbred's winnings. Because the stakes in horse races can go into the millions of dollars, top trainers can make millions of dollars every year.


Horse racing trainers in the United States must hold a license to conduct business. These certifications are handled at the state level, but many jurisdictions make it easy for someone licensed in another state to get a local license.

Though state laws vary, in general, a candidate for a license must prove to the state that he or she has already spent time assisting professional trainers in as many as 100 races and is competent in the practice. And of course, any conviction associated with race-fixing or animal cruelty is an automatic disqualification.