How Do Stable Hands Prepare The Horses Ready For The Grand National?

The Grand National is the biggest race to take place in the UK & Ireland all year, and for those lucky enough to have a runner in the race, everything needs to be spot on for the big day. Horses need to be trained at 100%, they need to be calm and ready to run, and the final touches to this are all completed on the day of the race.

These preparations are completed by the stable hands who look after the runners, at home and then travel to the race to be with them before the start. Preparation is key, and while runners may not be able to win the race before they go out onto the track, they can certainly lose it, being unable to run to their best, which for a race like the Grand National, wouldn’t be good enough to win.

stable hand with horse in stable ring in Aintree

Keeping a Routine On The Day Of The Race

Horses are creatures of routine and have a strict training plan in place while they are at home. When they are ready to run, in any race, their final day of training, plus light exercise before the race, will all be done in the same way.

It is vital that the Grand National shouldn’t take that away, so one of the biggest roles that stable hands have is to keep routines in place. This means if horses go out and do light exercise on the morning of a race, the horse needs to be at Aintree and able to do that on the course, to keep the routine the same.

Some runners head to Aintree a day or two before the Grand National, but to ensure that horses have the best preparation possible, facilities are in place to aid with exercise. We often see this with the Irish runners who are aimed at the race, they are given exercise slots and facilities, to keep their routine from home in place and not change anything.

Being Surrounded By Familiar Faces For The Final Touches

stable hand holding horse jacket at AintreeAnother crucial aspect of the build-up is not just what the horses do, and what they need, but who gives them it. In their home stables, horses are cared for by the same people each day, becoming accustomed to them and their ways, horses recognise those who are giving them the care.

Stable staff will travel to Aintree, to make sure they are a part of the day, and so the horse knows they are surrounded by familiar faces, the same as those who look after them at home. This should all leave the horse feeling calm and relaxed ahead of the race, rather than being in a different environment and with different people on the eve of the big one.

Although the stable may be different, and the exercise area may not be the same, the fact that the people are the same will go a long way to helping the horses relax in the situation.

Staying Calm Before The Run

erratic horse prior to racing with jockey and stable handThe final aspect of preparing horses before the race is to keep them calm as the big moment arrives. There will be a lot of buzz around Aintree Racecourse, the crowds pack the stands, and everyone wants to get a glimpse of the Grand National runners when they are finally in public areas.

This begins with the pre-parade ring, where the public can see the horses for the first time before they are saddled and ready to run in the race. Their stable hands will be with them, and then if needed, when horses need to be saddled for the race, others will be there to help.

Then comes the main parade ring, and the on-track parade in front of the stands, the two areas where horses will be most under pressure due to the number of people watching. The stands will be packed at this point, with thousands watching over the parade ring, and then even more watching when the horses are in front of the main stand.

This is all about keeping the horses calm for their stable hands, guiding them around with reassurance, and making sure they do not get worked up or hot before the race. In the past, we have seen horses affected by the parades before the race, and pretty much throw away their chances of winning by how they behave at this point.

2023 Race Start Postponement And Horse Welfare

During the 2023 race, due to protesters gaining access to the course, the start of the race was postponed. It was a hot afternoon and it was decided that for some horses it was better for them to return to the stables while police were addressing the course invasion. Of course, these horses are well accustomed to walking around the parade ring, however their welfare remains paramount. Once the course had been cleared horses were able to return to the parade ring ready for the race.

Punters are often looking at horses beforehand, to check how they are, if they are getting warm and agitated, and may be put off if they see a horse not handling the preliminaries very well.  The stable hands are there in order to ensure this doesn’t happen, and look after their runner in the best possible way before the race actually begins. That said, some horses that look as if they are going to be too energetic and pent up to race due to bucking or galloping erratically in the parade ring often do very well.