Below is an average breakdown of the rate paid by owners per horse daily for training services. The breakdown is based on a 20-25 horse stable at a major Kentucky track. Most stables have horses coming and going all the time, therefore contract labor is often used to supplement staff on salary. Some trainers gallop or groom horses themselves which is a big savings but not always realistic in a big stable. Typical costs PER HORSE PER DAY in Kentucky can vary by several dollars/day – the numbers here are on the LOW END of the range, and are current through 2019. A little over 20% of the labor cost for groom, rider, and hotwalker is FICA, unemployment, and workers compensation taxes:
$20.50 – groom
$18.30 – exercise rider
$11.50 – hotwalker
$2.85 – foreman
$5.35 - $8.20 – assistant trainer
Total labor cost per day per horse is $58.50
$7.50 – straw
$9.25 – hay
$8.50 – grain or other feed and supplements (like electrolytes) not charged to owner
$2.50 – office equipment, tack (saddles, bridles, leads, etc.), barn equipment ( buckets, pitchforks, fans, etc.), supplies (disinfectant, horse shampoo, fly control, etc.)
The total is $86.25 per day per horse
Note that hay and straw are much more expensive in south Florida because it must be shipped in from the north. Also note that training centers that do not have live racing charge “stall rent”, generally at a rate of $7-$10 per day per stall. These two expenses alone can raise the cost per day per horse significantly. In our research we found day rates at major tracks and training centers in Kentucky that varied from $90-$100/day. The majority of trainers we encountered that are stabled at race tracks and large training centers in Kentucky charge at least $85/day.
Other expenses paid by the trainer and usually not covered by the day rate:
travel and moving expenses
rent at seasonal track
assistant trainer’s salary health and trainer liability insurance
Other expenses paid by the owner and usually not covered by the day rate:
farrier – at the track this is $130-$170 per horse about every 30 days
shipping – to races at outside tracks, between racetracks seasonally, to and from farms if your horse gets lay-up or vacation
race day expenses – pony to post, hotwalker, vet wrap, tape, run down patches, etc. at about $50 per race
veterinary care, medications, vaccinations, worming – including pre and post race treatment
specialized equipment or supplements for an individual horse
mortality insurance on horses – usually about 3% of agreed value of horse annually
owner liability insurance – generally a “per horse” rate annually
jockey fees – usually $80-$100 if unplaced or 10% taken out of purse money automatically
trainer’s share of purse – usually 10% of purse money earned, invoiced to owner monthly (PLEASE NOTE THAT I CHARGE 11% ON WIN PURSES)
Other points to consider:
Not only do most trainers drive to work in the morning 7 days/week, they also have to drive to the races when not stabled at the active track, and many move their entire stable and their home with the racing circuit several times a year. In order to retain important staff members, trainers have to pay some employees’ travel and moving expenses as well. For these reasons travel expenses are extremely high for most trainers.
For trainers who have exercise riders on salary, the more horses per day that one rider can gallop, the less the cost per horse for the trainer. Similarly the trainer’s labor cost will be less if salaried grooms handle more horses per groom; however, each horse in the stable will receive less individual attention if the groom and exercise rider have more horses to work with daily.
Feed and bedding cost is directly related to quality, and feed/bedding quality directly affects the horse’s health and performance so is very important. The cost of hay and straw can fluctuate greatly depending on weather conditions, location and demand. Some race tracks and large training centers mandate use of straw for bedding, so lower cost bedding options like bulk sawdust on rubber mats is usually not an option. Bagged shavings or other alternative bedding is comparable in cost to straw.
Most racing stable employees and many trainers do not have health care insurance coverage because they can’t afford the premiums. Of course this is a problem shared by many small businesses in the U.S. This problem is part of the reason for the existence of horsemen’s organizations such as the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA) and the Kentucky Racing Health and Welfare Fund.
So you might ask, “how does a trainer make a living?”
Trainers have to make ends meet with purse money, and there isn’t much room for error or a trainer will go broke quick. Let’s optimistically assume that an average trainer’s 10 horse stable earns an average of $20,000/year per horse, or $200,000 in total earnings. The trainer’s share of the purse earnings is 10% or $20,000. A major focus of the HBPA is maximizing purse money, since it is what keeps not only trainers, but the whole racing industry in business.
Creative ways that some trainers try to improve the bottom line:
Owning part of the horses they train, therefore increasing their percentage of purse earnings. This is risky since there is no guarantee that any horse will actually earn money (see stats below).
Acting as bloodstock agents for their owners, making 5-10% commission on buying and selling racing prospects.
Owning a farm, boarding layups, broodmares and young horses for owners, and growing their own hay and straw.
Using their own truck and trailer for shipping.
Galloping, grooming, and hotwalking some of the stable’s horses to cut down on outside labor.
Unless a trainer has several high dollar earners in the barn, it’s a tough way to make a living. A trainer must be ruthlessly selective of the horses kept in training to ensure that each one can contribute to the bottom line. This is not an easy task considering the statistics below from Thoroughbred Times (not up to date, please let us know if you have updates to this information):
Chances of what any given thoroughbred race horse born in North America might accomplish in its entire racing career:
run in a race: 69%
win a race: 45%
win more than once: 34%
win a stakes race: 3%
win a graded stakes: less than 1%
race at age 2: 34%
win at 2: 11%
win a stakes at 2: less than 1%