11 Oct 2021

Proper care and nutrition for the recently retired racehorse

Proper care and nutrition for the recently retired racehorse

The 2021 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover will be held this month in Lexington, Kentucky. In appreciation of the amazing and versatile thoroughbred, we are sharing advice on how to address the nutrition needs of a recently retired racehorse.

The off-the-track-thoroughbred is a desirable candidate for a variety of disciplines ranging from hunters and three-day eventing to polo, barrel racing, or dressage. The athleticism, stamina, and trainability they possess make them a versatile option for many trainers and riders. Most horses that do not prove to be successful on the track are retired from racing by age three or four. Giving a horse a second chance in a different career is rewarding in more ways than one. When choosing to retrain a racehorse, take note that a new career will warrant a new feeding and nutrition regimen to keep your young thoroughbred happy and healthy.

Rest is the best

Retired racehorses coming directly off the track will usually appreciate and benefit from a bit of rest. This rest will help them wind down emotionally and physically allow their bodies to recover from the many stressors witnessed at the track. Time to adjust to their new surroundings and learn the routine of their new barn, as opposed to a more rigid track schedule, will allow them to be prepared both mentally and physically for whatever their future training will be. The first couple of weeks in the barn are a perfect time to assess the horse’s needs. Many thoroughbreds coming off the track will have gastric ulcers or inflammation of the hindgut. Some have low body conditions or suffer from lameness due to arthritis or poor hoof health.

Create a diet plan suited to their needs

Racehorses need to consume a substantial number of calories daily to perform competitively. When the horse leaves the track, their workload will likely decline, and there will need to be a decrease in calories consumed. To keep a horse on the same amount of feed they get while in race training, but take away the intense workouts will result in a very high-energy horse that can be hard to handle and keep happy. Many people notice weight loss in the first few months of transitioning a Thoroughbred off the track. This weight decrease is usually due to loss of muscle as well as the adjustment to a diet higher in roughage and lower in grains. Pasture turnout is generally a welcome form of dietary supplement for most former racehorses. Pasture should be introduced gradually, as many racehorses are not accustomed to turnout.

Once the horse has become used to their new lifestyle and started retraining, adjustments will likely need to be made to their diet; specifically, weight gain. Metabolism plays a key role in the weight of the retired racehorse. They are notorious for being hard keepers and often need more hay, grass, and special supplements to help efficiently convert energy into body fat. Lots of quality hay and pasture, along with a fiber and protein-rich fortified gain or ration balancer, is a good starting point when feeding a thoroughbred.

Supplements can address common issues in retraining.

A well-balanced diet for many horses consists of plenty of hay and grass and either a ration balancer or grain. Even with a good feeding program, most retired racehorses need supplements to address issues stemming from their breeding and time on the track. Thin soles and cracked hooves are common issues for Thoroughbreds. Many horses have active or past track injuries that need to be rehabbed correctly and supported.

Additionally, ulcers and stress can take a toll on the immune system, without proper nutritional support. Adding an all-natural herbal supplement such as rosehips to the diet can be hugely beneficial. The high vitamin C content of rosehips helps the body’s immune response to damaged tissue and inflammation, and antioxidants will help to neutralize free radicals and keep your horse healthy.

If arthritis is a concern, a protein present in rosehips could help Thoroughbreds by preventing the start of osteoarthritis through boosting the immune system, thus shielding joint tissue from materials that may cause harm. Rosehips also contain vitamins E, D, and A, as well as biotin. They also provide Omega 6 fatty acids, which are beneficial to hoof health and growth.

A racing career is just the beginning.

Transitioning a racehorse off the track and into a new career is rewarding and beneficial to the Thoroughbred breed. A horse’s usefulness does not have to stop at the track. Through proper care, nutrition and supplements, racehorses can successfully train and compete in a wide variety of disciplines.