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When I was visiting Paris Dixie last week one of the men who help buy and manage the horses said something along the lines of “the horses who enjoy their food and put on weight tend to be the better horses.” I thought this was very interesting as thoroughbreds have a reputation for being really hard to keep weight on. But is there anything to suggest foodies perform better? And could this explain why thoroughbreds have a bad reputation?
Do Foodies perform better?
Before I can look at why horses leaving the racing industry have such a bad reputation for being hard to keep weight on, I wanted to look at factors why horse foodies might perform better.
Foodies are more chilled out
Firstly, one thing I have noticed over the years is that horses who enjoy their food and put weight on easily, also tend to be calmer and more chilled out. I really don’t know why this is, it is just an observation I have made. But I think it might simply boil down to when most animals (or people) are stressed or anxious, they are too busy worrying to think about eating. So maybe horses who are naturally more anxious are less interested in food.
A good head is a good horse
Another thing said at the visit last week was that while we all like to see a horse with a bit of spark, too much spark is not a good thing.
I remember a demonstration with Charlotte Dujardin where she was saying that she liked a horse with a spark for training. Her reasoning was that training dressage is trying a new aid and the horse giving you a response. You then repeat the aid until you get the response you want. A quirky horse is more likely to give a reaction to that aid which you can then work with.
However, in racing things are a bit more straightforward and the general consensus is you want something what stays level headed and gets on with the job.
Foodie = Chilled = Better?
So if you can say a chilled out horse is better suited for racing and that horses who enjoy their food tend to be more chilled out, it’s not a stretch to say that horses who enjoy their food perform better.
So why do thoroughbreds have such a bad reputation for keeping weight on?
Thoroughbreds are considered some of the best athletes in the equine world. Not only do they dominate the racing world, but they are used in many sports horse breeds to improve their qualities. Around 35% of the Hanoverian genetics come from the thoroughbred. If being able to put condition on is a key factor in performance, why do they have such a bad reputation for this?
Where are the underweight winners?
Think of all the famous and fantastic racehorses you can. Other than being racing fit, how many of them would you say looked a bit lean? I personally can’t think of any. Even the long distance chase horses are covered in thick muscle and look fantastic. And then once they retire and head off to stud, they grow bellies and look incredibly. Sometimes even verging on crossing over to the fat side. These horses obviously have no problem putting on condition.
Poor Performance Retirement.
The main reason for a horse retiring from racing is due to poor performance. Keeping a horse in training is very expensive. So if the horse isn’t performing well, then many owners decide to retire them, either to stud or to have a non racing career.
So if we consider the idea that horses which are foodies are good doers and tend to perform better, then it makes sense that horses who are not performing as well are more likely to be retired. The bad reputation of the thoroughbred is something which exists outside the racing industry, mainly among the ex racehorse population.
So maybe their bad reputation in the wider equine community is purely due to the fact that the ones which leave the industry have left for not being good enough, possibly due to not being able to keep condition on well.
Explains the exceptions
This idea would also justify the thoroughbred freaks like Scottie who get fat off of air! If a breed as a whole was known as being hard to keep condition on, it should be rare to find one who keeps the weight on well. But if a horse being a good doer is a factor in their performance, it makes sense that you would see less of these horses outside the racing industry.
This post is almost entirely just my opinion and ideas based on what these people said and the visit last week. I do believe there is some logic in there which would make sense and explain some things. But it certainly isn’t fact, just an interesting idea.
What do you think about the idea of foodies being better performers? Do you think it might explain why thoroughbreds have a bad reputation outside of racing?