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Feeding the thoroughbred, especially an ex racehorse, can be tricky. This is because they tend to lose weight easily but can be sensitive to many feeds, making them ‘hot’ or ‘fresh’. Therefore, the trick is to give them enough energy for the work they are doing and to keep the weight on without blowing their minds. However every horse is different and respond to different feeds, so you may need to try several different ones until you find one which suits your horse. You may also need to change your feeding as the seasons and your horses condition changes.
Why feeding the thoroughbred can be tricky
As I already mentioned, the problem faced by many thoroughbred owners is to make sure they get the calories they need to maintain weight without blowing their brain. Many also have bad physical and behavioural reactions to certain ingredients or a history of ulcers, reducing the number of feed options available to you. But there are a few key tips to bare in mind when looking at what to feed your thoroughbred; High Fibre, Low Starch.
Remember, not all thoroughbreds are poor doers
When buying a new thoroughbred, many just assume they will be poor doers. But many thoroughbreds are actually really good doers. These horses have the opposite problem of wanting to give them enough nutrients, but not extra calories, whilst also avoiding potentially heating ingredients.
What should you feed your thoroughbred?
When you first start looking at what to feed any horse, your first thought should be what do they need from their feed? Some horses need calories, some need protein and some just need to have all the nutrients and no extra calories. This is no different for thoroughbreds.
If your horse has come straight out of racing, they may look skinny. But ask yourself, are they underweight, or are they just really fit with very little topline? Most likely they are the second one and any feed and a lower workload should be enough to help them fill out a bit.
How do you fatten up a thoroughbred?
My go to for any horse what needs a bit of extra weight is fibre. Many thoroughbred owners will say the best way to keep weight or put weight on a thoroughbred is fibre, fibre, fibre! Make sure they always have access to plenty of forage. There should be grass or hay in the field and hay in the stable. Horses spend most of their day eating, if you have a horse what struggles to keep weight on you should encourage this by letting them always have forage near by.
You can then supplement the forage with hard feed. I am personally a huge balancer fan. You can give your horse all the nutrients they need in a fairly small amount of feed. This means you can top up your horses feed with a conditioning feed, without having to worry about nutrients. Horses have fairly small stomachs, so it is important that their bucket feeds aren’t too big. Some conditioning feeds need to be fed in large amounts to get all the nutrients. Not only is this perhaps too much food in one sitting, but it might actually be more calories than your horse needs.
I would start them on a balancer and a chaff with oil such as Dengie Alfalfa A Oil. This should cover all their nutritional needs. You can then look at adding a conditioning cube or calorie mash to these feeds to get some extra calories in them. This also means you can adjust the levels of the calorie feed based on their individual needs without risking them not getting the nutrients.
What to feed the good doer thoroughbred?
As with any good doer, the focus should always be fibre. Most horses, no matter of breed and type, can survive very well on a fibre only diet if they are in light work. So for the thoroughbred good doers focus on a mainly fibre diet. As with the poor doers, they should always have access to forage. But you might want to look at smaller holed haynets or soaking hay to limit the calories they are getting without limiting their access to forage.
When it comes to hard feed, I always recommend a low calorie balancer and a simple chaff. The balancer will make sure they get all the nutrients they need as forage can sometimes be missing in them. The chaff is purely because I don’t like horses to hoover up their dinner. Chaff slows them down as they have to chew. Since they are a good doer, I would look at something low calorie.
What to feed a fizzy thoroughbred
Unfortunately some horses react to certain ingredients, thoroughbreds do seem to be particularly sensitive to becoming fizzy on these. While every horse is different, these ingredients do seem to be common problem ingredients for thoroughbreds:
- Cereal based feeds
- Oat feed
- Wheat feed
- Flaked maize
If your thoroughbred is fizzy, I recommend going back to basics. Yep, you guessed it! Plenty of forage and a balancer. It’s usually fairly easy to find a balancer what hasn’t got these ingredients in. Finding conditioning feeds without all of these can be a bit more challenging. So if your horse is happy on a balancer, slowly start introducing a conditioning feed what hasn’t got one or two of the above ingredients in it. If that doesn’t work, remove that feed and slowly introduce one with different ingredients.
If your horse is fine on the balancer but fizzy on all conditioning feeds, consider whether it is the extra calories sending them fizzy. It’s not unusual for people to feed their thoroughbred more calories than they need, resulting in fizzy behaviour.
Be ulcer aware
Another important consideration for feeding the thoroughbred, especially horses which have raced, is gastric ulcers. It is suggested that at least 90% of horses in race training have gastric ulcers. Although not all ex racehorses need to be given ulcer supplements, it is important to make sure they have plenty of forage and you may want to give them a haynet or chaff before exercising them. You can also use treat balls filled with fibre cubes and hay cubes to help increase feeding times. This will reduce the likelihood of having an ulcer problem in the future.
Many feed companies are very helpful at giving advice on individual cases based on their body condition score, work level and what you are hoping to do with them. If you are ever stuck I would recommend talking to one of them. However, many do tend to suggest their own products rather than other brands, just something to bare in mind. Another place for great information is this group on Facebook, Ex racehorse owners DO NOT have a deathwish! Always extremely helpful and full of different opinions. Remember to never make sudden changes to your horse’s diet and read our guide for how to go about changing your horse’s diet.