Feeding Thoroughbred Horses Off the Track

Thoroughbred horses can be hard keepers, showing ribs even when you swear you’re feeding them enough. These high energy horses seem to burn calories so easily that you can’t even think about riding without them dropping weight. The hardest keepers, however, are the off the track thoroughbred horses, or OTTB: former racehorses that are now pleasure horses.

Feeding a former racehorse is nothing to take lightly. If your OTTB left the track recently, he’ll need some extra care to make the transition to a pleasure horse’s diet.

Understanding the Racehorse’s Diet

In order to help your OTTB transition to a pleasure horse’s diet, it’s important to understand where he’s coming from. Racehorses are worked very hard for short periods every day, then spend the rest of their time in a stall. Stalled horses are already more prone to intestinal issues, but on top of this, racehorses are also fed more than 50 percent of their diet in grain. This extremely high-energy diet satisfies the need for massive amounts of calories to fuel their workouts, plus allows for a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals to replace what is lost through excessive sweat.

Of course, if you know anything about horses, you know how dangerous large quantities of grain can be. In addition to increasing the risk of intestinal issues, such a diet also causes ulcers. In addition, most racehorses are kept slightly skinnier than what most of us would consider healthy for a pleasure horse, so your OTTB will likely come to you showing a few more ribs than you’re used to.

Feeding Your OTTB

Now that you know what kind of a diet your horse had before leaving the track, you will better appreciate the best way to transition him to life as a pleasure horse. It’s not an easy transition for most thoroughbred horses to make. At first, you may struggle to get weight onto your OTTB.

  • Ulcers: Ulcers can cause horses difficulty in maintaining weight. This can be due to loss of appetite, inability to utilize calories, or both. While switching your horse’s diet to one that includes the proper amount of hay or grazing will help his ulcers heal, he may also need help from a daily medicine called Gastroguard (omeprazole). Consult with your vet if you suspect your OTTB has ulcers. Especially since ulcers may affect some 90 percent of racehorses.
  • Feed: To say your OTTB comes to you extremely fit is probably an understatement. Your horse is accustomed to burning a mind-boggling number of calories every day and may drop weight if his diet isn’t attended to. Racehorses are typically kept a little on the skinny side, so he already has weight to gain in his new life as a pleasure horse. Adding sugary calories can have an impact on attitude and energy levels, not to mention on those ulcers you are trying to heal, so it’s a better idea to add calories from fat. For instance, a high-fat complete feed, alfalfa hay, or alfalfa pellets will help provide the calories he needs in order to gain weight and transition to a pleasure horse’s diet.

Other Considerations

Remember that OTTB is going through some major lifestyle changes.  Both his mind and his body will need some time to adjust. It’s important to have a great support team, including a good veterinarian, feed supplier, and farrier. They can help you make decisions about his feed and care.

For help determining which feed is right for your OTTB, contact Sacate Pellet Mills at 602-237-3809.