The racehorse is typically fed a high energy, low fibre diet. This means that generally hay or haylage quantities are considerably less than given to non-racing horses and there is unlikely to be the addition of other fibres sources such as sugarbeet and chaff
As the provision of energy is absolutely vital the concentrate proportion of the diet has a high starch content. In the main this is still achieved by the feeding of cereals, namely oats although more trainers are turning to specialist cubes and pencils for the racehorse as these have important vitamins and minerals added.
In a day a horse in training will receive upwards of 7kgs of concentrates. Coupled with the general stresses associated with racing life and the lack of fibre, such diet can lay behind conditions such as ulcers and colic.
Changing the Diet
Regardless of the change to his lifestyle the now former racehorse still requires a diet that contains the right balance of nutrients not only to keep him healthy but to enable him to build new muscle for being a riding horse and possibly a competition horse.
The diet comprises fibre, protein, carbohydrates and fats along with vitamins, minerals and trace elements. All are important for health and well being.
You should follow the same rules of feeding of any horse so you take into account workload and temperament, and any presenting clinical issues, as well as the matter of increasing general bodyweight. The racehorse is an athlete so carries no excess fat just pure racing muscle. As this muscle drops away because the race training has ceased your horse can appear underweight until he begins to gain condition (bulk) from his new diet.
Typically your new horse will have no topline and a somewhat triangular shape to his hindquarters; he will look a bit “hippy” and there will be little cover to the ribs giving him the greyhound look, not to be confused with a true herring-gutted horse.
Good Feeding Guide
- Feed good quality forage, ad lib if possible to promote weight gain, gut health and general well-being; trickle feeding mimics what nature intended so helps to keep your horse happy and healthy.
- Split concentrate feeds into 2 but ideally 3 feeds per day.
- Make all changes to the diet gradually, ideally over a period of at least a week. This will reduce the risk of digestive upset.
- Think fibre as this is the most important nutrient over water. Fibre provides enough energy to meet the requirements of most general riding horses.
- Calories for weight gain and calories for energy are the same so for weight gain increase the oil content of the diet – unless you also want more energy.
- Micronised linseed is one of the best oil sources as it provide the Omegas 3, 6 and 9 in the correct ratios for the horse.
- Remember the horse has a small stomach so limit hard feeds to around 2kg per feed.
Aids to Digestion
Various factors can influence a horse’s internal gut health so sometimes a little help is required to keep everything functioning as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Giving pre and probiotics can enhance the efficiency of the digestive process by maintaining a healthy population of gut flora, the millions of micro-organisms we term “friendly bacteria”. A prebiotic provides a food source for gut flora and also clean up any pathogenic types of bacteria whilst a probiotic is a yeast culture which actually contains live yeast cells which serve to keep the environment in the gut healthy for the friendly bacteria to work in. and are also involved in helping bacteria to digest fibre. YeaSacc1026 is one of the most popular yeast cultures.
You may need to experiment with the diet to get the right balance but there will be solutions to help your horse look the picture of health.
The thoroughbred has as much capacity to gain weight and carry condition as any other horse so if you consider your horse is a little leaner than you would like, then a simple adjustment to his diet is all that is required unless there is an underlying clinical issue, a worm burden or an issue with dentition.