When we watch a horse end a reining pattern with a perfect sliding stop or a dressage horse present an exquisite pirouette, it’s easy to see how they made their way to the winner’s circle. But what we don’t see is all of the time and thought that goes into these elite athletes performing to the best of their ability. Horses that compete on this level don’t just show up to a competition without any preparation, in fact it’s quite the opposite. The making of a champion involves precise breeding, training, veterinary care, and the right people believing that they are capable of elite competition and can be seen first-hand in the Behind Every Champion Is a Team.

Breeding for a Champion

Breeders put a lot of time and energy into finding the perfect cross for the type of performance horse they want to produce. They follow pedigrees back for multiple generations and study previous crosses and offspring before deciding which crosses to make.

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“Now we’ve found much more advancing of the disciplines and the performance is so much higher because the breeding is following the top horses that perform, and that’s what is really exciting,” said Russ Peterson, DVM, DACVSMR, Cert. ISELP.

Things that are considered when making a potential cross are size, conformation, disposition, trainability, athletic ability, and so much more.

“You want to breed to the best stud or mare that’s available, but I like to take into consideration confirmation and disposition,” said NRHA hall of fame trainer Winston Hansma.

Once the perfect cross has been made and you have a foal that is full of potential, the next step is to start training that horse to be a champion.

Training a Champion

It takes more than just a well-bred and talented horse to become a champion. These elite horses are in structured training programs that are tailored to their discipline and needs. 

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“We have a lot more tools to help train the horse and have them not have setbacks but know they’re actually trained adequately to be at the level they need to be,” explained Peterson. “Now there’s a tremendous amount of science that shows us how to train a horse to be an elite athlete that’s performing that is fit enough to not get hurt,” he said.

One of the best ways to set a horse up for success is by giving them the training that they need, but it’s also necessary to take care of their veterinary needs to keep their bodies maintained to compete on such a high level.

Maintaining a Champion

Olympian, NBA, and NFL athletes put a tremendous amount of care into their bodies through therapies and the latest sports medicine technology, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that elite equine athletes have the same thing done to them. The science in equine sports medicine has come leaps and bounds in just the past ten years which has allowed horse owners to prolong the careers of their athletes as well as up their level of ability.

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“The future of equine sports medicine is an area that is going to continue to grow. It’s changed a lot because now it’s teaching veterinarians to think it’s just a lame horse and how to fix it, rather that these are equine athletes, how can we keep them going at their best for years,” said Kent Allen, DVM and FEI National Head Veterinarian.

With advanced CT’s and MRI’s, veterinarians are now able to get precise images of horses’ joints, tendons, and bones than ever before. They are able to treat what were once career ending injuries with advanced therapy treatments and medicines. This technology and science is only going to keep expanding which means these elite performance horses are going to be better taken care of than most human athletes.

It’s obvious that a lot of work goes into making a champion, but after watching the Behind Every Champion Is a Team, it’s clear that these with our help, these impeccable animals are capable of things we could have never imagined. 

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Horse Week: October 3 - 9

Watch, learn, be inspired. Equine Network presents Horse Week brought to you by Boehringer Ingelheim October 3-9, 2021. Stream our free week-long celebration of the horse from any smart device. 

Boehringer Ingelheim presents, The Making of a Champion—a film about the team of experts it takes to keep elite performance equines at peak health. Premiering Sunday, October 3 at 8:00 p.m. EDT. Visit horseweek.tv for more information!

Check out more must-see equine content October 3-9, 2021 during Horse Week brought to you by Boehringer Ingelheim Equine Health at horseweek.tv.

WATCH the trailer for The Making of a Champion below.

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