Feeding off the track thoroughbreds.

Many off the track thoroughbreds find new careers as riding and competition horses. When they first come to a new home, a new diet is one of the first major changes they face. So it’s important to ensure when feeding off the track thoroughbreds you pay attention to detail.

Straight out of Training

A Thoroughbred straight out of training will have been used to high energy, low fibre diet. He’ll have been consuming large amounts of concentrate feed and often only fed relatively small volumes of forage.  This means when coming off the track, he must become accustomed not only to his new home but also to quite different feeding practices.

The first hurdle to tackle nutritionally for any off the track TB is to reduce the amount of energy (calories) he gets.  In training, he may well have been fed in excess of 7kg of a high energy racehorse mix providing plenty of fast release energy. This is the last thing that’s needed at his new home! It’s important for any horse to have a balanced diet that meets its needs for energy, protein, fibre vitamins and minerals. The diet should also suit temperament, workload and age, and feeding off the track thoroughbreds is no exception.

Whilst you need to reduce his energy intake, it’s still important that the nutrient levels aren’t compromised.  Offering a handful of basic pellets and chaff just won’t be enough.  A typical Thoroughbred, weighing 500kg at rest or in light work will need 2% of his body weight daily in dry matter intake. Most of it should be forage plus initially, some hard feed.

Turnout on Grass

For those turned away on good grass, a balancer, such as Fibregenix Lami Low-Cal, will bridge nutrient gaps in the pasture but with no associated calories.   Balancers provide a concentrated source of nutrients in a small volume which can be beneficial when feeding at pasture.  Just 500g per day is required for a 500kg horse at rest so Lami Low-Cal can easily be fed once a day.  Where grass quality isn’t good or the horse needs more condition, you can provide extra calories with a small amount of hard feed or beet pulp. When feeding off the track thoroughbreds you can also feed Fibregenix Prime Original conditioning balancer.

After bringing horses in after a long period of “downtime” in the paddock, adjustments to diet must be gradual.  Grass provides more calories, protein, vitamins and minerals than hay, so when substituting grass with hay, adjust the nutrient content accordingly of any other feed given.  A high-spec Fibregenix balancer provides a boost of quality nutrients whilst ensuring a healthy gut environment during the transition period

Safe Conditioning

Whatever your off the track racehorse is doing, if he needs condition, look for a high fibre conditioning feed eg beet pulp. This provides a concentrated source of non-heating calories and keeps meal sizes manageable.  It also ensures feed is utilised efficiently with a smaller risk of digestive upsets or “crabby” behaviour.  The specific yeast probiotic in Fibregenix Prime Original Conditioning balancer can double fibre digestibility and improve the calorie and nutrient yield of what’s being fed. This will increase condition without needing large amounts of hard feed.TIP: If your Thoroughbred is prone to being a bit fizzy, feed a pellet rather than a mix. Pellet feeds (cubes) contain less starch than a muesli mix of a similar nutrient specification.

Conditioning for Excitable Types

Oil is a useful addition to the diet if you need slow-release, non-heating energy. It provides 2¼ times as many calories as cereals.  However, not all horses can tolerate high levels of oil in their diet so be careful when feeding. Introduce slowly. If the manure starts to look greasy or greyish in colour, it can indicate your horse isn’t digesting it properly.  In this case, back off the amount you’re feeding and re-introduce again more slowly. Oil can be fed alongside beet pulp, forage and  Fibregenix. This keeps the diet cereal free, which is important where there may be ongoing ulcer issues. A common occurrence in the ex-racehorse.

Why Fibre for Digestive Health?

Research suggests that 90% of horses in training suffer from gastric ulcers. This is due to the low fibre, high starch diets they receive during training.  So it’s even more important to ensure that an off the track racehorse is returned to a high fibre diet ASAP.  Forage is important in any horse’s diet as they’ve evolved to consume large amounts eaten over an 18-hour period.  The physical bulk of fibre is also vital for maintaining regular bowel movement. Furthermore, it helps push out any excess gas that may be accumulating in the gut, which can become distended when it builds up. Excess gas can lead to considerable pain and often results in colic symptoms.

Fibre is also important for counteracting acidity throughout the digestive tract.  Fibre takes longer to chew than grain-based hard feeds. When the horse chews, the resulting saliva produced helps neutralise the acidity of the stomach contents. Long periods of chewing helps avoid gastric ulceration to the upper region of the stomach which is vulnerable to ulcers.

Fibre is fermented and broken down by bacteria in the hindgut. The breakdown of fibre produces acids that are much weaker than those from the breakdown of starch (cereals).  This results in a hindgut environment that is far more hospitable to the bacterial population. Therefore, with bacteria being particularly important to overall health, it’s vital to maintain fibre levels.

Healthy Mind

Fibre helps keep the gut and mind healthy.  Always provide your horse with plenty of fibre either in the stable or field to prevent boredom and relieve stress.  All horses are herd animals, so try and provide company to prevent anxiety and stress.

Previous thinking was that boredom was the main reason horses receiving very little fibre started to develop stereotype behaviour. However, recent research suggests some stereotyped behaviour is a response to increased acidity in the digestive tract.  If a horse isn’t receiving much fibre, his chew time will be reduced and the gut may remain very acidic.  Therefore, the importance of fibre can never be under-estimated. Feeding more fibre and keeping the volume of concentrates down, will reduce the risk of digestive upsets occurring.

Creating a healthy gut

If your Thoroughbred has come from a retraining/rehabilitation centre, the gut should be healthy and already adapted to the feeding regime.  However, moving to a new home or adapting from life in racing can still take its toll on the digestive system.  When stressed, beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract can become disrupted resulting in an unhealthy gut and loose droppings (scouring).  Feeding a prebiotic should mean that harmful bacteria aren’t able to take advantage of the compromised condition of the digestive tract.  The two specific prebiotics in Fibregenix Platinum Pro and Lami Low-Cal can help to reduce the incidence of scouring caused by the stress response or bacterial infections.

Probiotics and prebiotics help enhance the health of the bacterial population. These are particularly beneficial when the digestive tract is under stress.  Prebiotics work by providing ‘good’ bacteria with a food source and maintain a healthy environment for them to reproduce.   ‘Bad’ bacteria are then expelled by competitive exclusion as they then have no room to develop.  By maintaining the natural bacterial balance of the gut,  efficient feed utilisation is promoted. This is highly beneficial for the ‘poor doer’ and for overall good health.

A Successful Transition

With attention to detail and a little care in the early stages. There’s no reason why your ex-racehorse shouldn’t thrive where the ratio of forage to hard feed is a healthy balance.  Once settled into their new life, most Thoroughbreds simply need treating like any other individual horse. Some even become laid back good-doers!

Reviewed and amended April 2021

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