A racing colt or filly is generally born between 1st January and 30th June, after an 11-month gestation period.
The births themselves, in the setting of the stud farms, generally occur at night or at dawn, as the mares prefer a calm atmosphere in which to foal. In their early days, the foal (the year’s colt or filly) does not leave its mother’s side. Little by little, it gains strength and confidence, becoming independent in nutritional terms by giving up its mother’s milk in favour of meadow grass and then later oats, before full weaning* is complete at around 6 months old.
In the meadows, known in the profession as paddocks, the young racers develop freely. From the 1st of January following their birth, the foals are called “yearlings”. At the end of their yearling year, they commence the breaking in phase primarily by learning to accept a saddle, to support the weight of a rider and to wear a bridle. The most precocious individuals join a trainer’s stable at the age of two and are then guided towards the events reserved for their age group.
The distances in these races vary from 4 furlongs (800m) at the start of the year to 10 furlongs (2,000m) towards the end of the season. Two-year-olds run exclusively on the flat, with the jumps racing discipline beginning only from 3 years onwards. For late developers, their competition debut can come at the age of 4 or 5. This is particularly common among half-thoroughbreds and non-thoroughbreds, which are not so fast but are particularly good stayers and gifted over the jumps. The most famous non-thoroughbred is probably the brilliant Al Capone II.
At the end of their sporting career (between the ages of 3 and 10, or even later in some cases), the finest champions are used for breeding. After all, the race programme’s ultimate objective is to select the best breeding stock.
On their arrival at the stud farm, the males become “stallions” and the fillies “brood mares”. Geldings (castrated males) or insufficiently distinguished competitors mostly embark on new careers in leisure riding or equestrian sports.