There is life beyond the track for racing thoroughbreds.
They are the cream of the crop when it comes to racing and sadly their racing years are short even for the elite. The majority of thoroughbreds have a racing career of fewer than 5 years. Although this pales in comparison to the average human’s career, they train and race non stop throughout that time. Retiring thoroughbreds are often great choices for hunters and jumpers, polo ponies and dressage.
We are all pretty familiar with the diet for training and racing thoroughbred but how does it differ for an off the track thoroughbred (OTTB)? There will always be an adjustment period for retired thoroughbreds. Some of the adjustments relate to training, diet and health car, and how to avoid stress related gastric ulcers in retired thoroughbreds.
How best to handle the “Let down period”
First things first. There is a period at the start of thoroughbred retirement referred to as a “let down period”. This period can span from a few weeks to several months. It will all depend on several key factors. One of the primary things to address is getting a full “report card” on your OTTB diet, training schedule, living conditions and day to day preferences. The report card will give you the big picture look at how to get to your end goal with as little disruption and stress to your new horse. If this is your first OTTB, then look for online forums and organisations that can help tailor a transition plan for you and your horse. This plan needs to include a transition phase for diet, exercise, stabling and healthcare. Your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist will be able to assist with any dietary needs that may be a result of any injuries or illnesses.
A racing thoroughbred’s diet adjusts as the horse ages. For racing 2-3-year-olds the priority is ensuring calcium, minerals and protein are adequately balanced to assist in the development of bones and muscles as the horses continue to train, race and grow. As they mature, this is adjusted.
OTTB Diet Tips to avoid weight gain
As thoroughbreds continue to age, there is a natural increase in their training and racing. Their diet is a formulated balancing act of chaff or hay, proteins, minerals and supplements. Racing horses can consume between 18 and 20 pounds (8-10kgs) of grain a day. This large amount assists them in keeping their energy levels at the perfect point for daily training and racing. Once retired it is essential to slowly ease them into a new diet . An OTTB that has a new lease of life as an eventing horse won’t require the average 19 pounds (8kgs) of grain daily. However, you can’t just reduce the grain and introduce hay straight away.
A sudden change will lead to substantial weight loss and stress for your OTTB. Experts recommend initially reducing them to 9 pounds (4kgs) of grain a day and then increasing a few extra pounds if you notice significant weight loss. It can take several months before your OTTB is eating a similar diet to your other horses. By taking your time and consulting with your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist, you can reduce stress, the possibility of gastric ulcers and also proactively address any racing injuries that might require supplements to encourage healing.
To reduce grain and still ensure adequate fat and protein consider adding corn oil to feed. Use it wisely.1 to 6 ounces (28- 168g)per day is safe and will assist in the digestion of hay and supplements. Ideally your end goal for your OTTB is to reduce grain volume in feeds and encourage natural grazing with some grain, hay and supplements if still required. As always ensure there is always adequate fresh water for your horse.
Gastric Ulcers a health risk associated with OTTB’s
Equine gastric ulcer syndrome tends to go hand in hand with any high-performance horse. It results from a combination of diet, training and stress from travelling and competing. Using Omeprazole once you take delivery of your OTTB will assist them in settling into a new routine with feed, environment and training. It can be quite stressful for a horse being stalled, except for training, travelling and racing, to move to the new environment where it can graze in a pasture with other horses. Your OTTB will get there eventually but slow and steady is the pathway to a happily retired race horse that still has years to learn a new discipline.
Administering a once-a-day dose of omeprazole will help prevent stress and diet related gastric ulcers in OTTB.