Kentucky Equine Research (KER) Horse Management Tips
Even with impeccable bloodlines, some horses fail to fulfill the achievements they were bred to accomplish. However, they may find a niche in another discipline. Transitioning horses from one life or sport to another can be challenging, but sensible management and high-quality nutrition will ease the changeover.
Management Tips for Retired Racehorses:
One crisp morning, a Thoroughbred gelding approaches his training on the racecourse’s track. After trotting one-half mile, the gelding is eased into a gallop. Pressing forward with an effortless stride, his speed is deceptively slow. With his time far from competitive, his trainer calls the gelding’s owner, stating, “He’s not going to make it, too slow.” After exchanging a few more words, the trainer rings off.
Loaded into a trailer days later, the gelding is destined for a new home. Plans are to transform the gelding from a racetrack cast-off to competitive sport horse. No certainties exist, as his talent or temperament may not be compatible with sport horse traits. Though failing as a racing investment, the owner feels confident the horse can still have a productive life. For the horse, a new world awaits.
The life and schedule of a horse changes dramatically as it transitions from the racetrack to a second career. “Some people believe that because horses are fit from race training they must remain in training. “Horses do not lose condition as quickly as humans, so horses leaving the track should have some rest and relaxation for their minds before training for a new occupation,” according to KER nutritionist Dr. Kathleen Crandell.
Ulcers are almost a given in racehorses, so once a Thoroughbred arrives in his new home have a veterinarian perform a gastric endoscopy to see if ulceration is present,” advised Crandell. Gastric ulceration is just one factor that affects a horse’s health, with the rate of occurrence as high as 90%. This creates devastating effects on attitude and athleticism, plus inducing sourness and reluctance to work. If damage to the stomach lining is evident, first heal the ulcers and then deter them from redeveloping.
Review immunization records and deworming history of the horse, administering any recommended medications. Also, monitor the horse’s weight – most racehorses are sleeker and more streamlined than typical pleasure mounts.
Overhaul the Diet:
When horses leave the racetrack, workloads decline considerably and with that a corresponding decrease in calories. “This decrease in calories is vital, as horses transition into a second career they rarely work hard enough to justify the calorie intakes they consumed at the track.” commented Crandell.
Crandell recounted the tale of a Thoroughbred bought directly off the track. “The gelding was turned out in a grass-filled pasture to let it unwind before beginning its reeducation. Upon picking up the horse, the owner asked the trainer what he was feeding it. He replied, “Four gallons of sweet feed per day, about 16 pounds”. The owner followed the same diet.
“Five months later the horse was obese and flighty, completely unmanageable and unable to focus on anything, including the handler. He acted like a child who had eaten his entire bag of Halloween candy in one sitting!” I explained, “The horse did not need all those calories because he was not working hard anymore. He was eventually returned to a diet of grass and a well-balanced vitamin and mineral supplement”, commented Crandell.
Pasture is a welcome dietary diversion to former racehorses, though a gradual increase in the turnout time is advisable. Turnout however, can unveil other problems such as social ineptitude with other horses. Crandell said, “Many of these horses have never been pastured with other horses and companionship can be stressful.” When turning a horse out with a group, ensure the horse gets enough to eat. Intimidated by other horses, some would rather starve than fight their way to the feed bucket. Alternatively, some become overly aggressive or possessive of the feed.”
Though some shuffling of social hierarchy occurs in a herd upon introduction of a new member, most groups establish a new pecking order within a few days.
The “Skinny” Thoroughbred:
Genetics and metabolism of thoroughbreds often convert dietary energy to body fat, and therefore are reputed to be hard keepers.
The primary diet component should be high quality flush pasture. If kept in a stall, a barren run or lot, offer the horse nutritious dried forage, such as mixed varieties of hay, part grass and part legume, usually alfalfa; or hay cubes if the horse finds them palatable. Both the type and quality of hay are important. Also, ensure that the horse has access to clean water, needed to maintain digestive functions.
Most Thoroughbreds cannot fare well on forage alone, especially if they are on a weight gain plan. Therefore, include a concentrated energy source, typically a commercial sweet feed. Provide the minimum recommendation to ensure the horse is digesting sufficient nutrients to meet his protein, vitamin, and mineral requirements. Never feed more than the recommended amount.
Feed concentrates designed for senior or high-performance horses may be an option for increasing caloric intake. Typically, calories in these feeds originate from beet pulp, vegetable oil, and soy hulls, ingredients high in fat or fiber and low in starch. These energy sources feature an added benefit; they are less likely to make horses “hot” or excitable.
When a horse’s weight remains static, consider a fat supplement such as vegetable oils, drizzled over the feed at mealtime. Introduce it slowly. Messy feed tubs is a drawback with vegetable oils, they become grimy, requiring regular scrubbing. Vegetable oils also spoil quickly so maintain a fresh supply.
Rice bran is another source of supplemental calories. “Rice bran, with a balanced calcium to phosphorus ratio, is often the perfect ingredient to put an extra kick in a horse’s diet,” said Crandell. If selecting rice bran, confirm that it has undergone heat processing to reduce the likelihood of rancidity (stabilized).
Seek Advice: Seek advice from veterinarian and equine nutritionists for reconditioning off-the-track Thoroughbreds. Those having experience working with Thoroughbreds often have an encyclopedic knowledge of practical solutions to everyday problems, such as backing off high-fat rations and hitting a plateau in weight gain.
Flip That Horse:
Legions of talented riders have turned homely, neglected horses into show-worthy swans. Though saddle training may require years of effort, with care and conditioning, achieving a sales-photo bloom can occur within a few months. Project horses typically have multiple disadvantages, such as weight or condition issues, marginal coat health, dubious hoof quality plus a history of negligible veterinary care. Follow an orderly approach to rehabilitation.
- Step 1. Assemble a vet-farrier team.
Have a veterinarian or equine dentist perform a whole-mouth examination and do floating, extractions and other routine dental work.
Have the veterinarian do a fecal egg count to determine parasite load and then advise a deworming protocol that suits the horse.
Evaluate skin diseases, including rainrot, ringworm and scratches. These low-level infections often respond well to omega-3 fatty acids, especially those that have the greatest biological activity, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Note and photograph lumps or bumps on the legs to establish a visual baseline for comparison should an issue or accident occur. Document scars, pin-firing marks, soft swellings, and blemishes such as splints, osselets, and ringbone.
Enlist a professional farrier to handle hoof concerns. Timely trimming and shoeing will alleviate most cracks and chipped toes, though a sustained effort might be required to reshape or rebalance mismanaged hooves. Check for low-heel syndrome, an issue requiring attention over many trimming or shoeing cycles.
Have the farrier determine if the hoof wall is resilient, like that of a hard rubber hockey puck. Will it stand up to everyday wear and tear? Is the wall shelly or crumbly? Biotin can improve hoof health with a recommended dose of 20 mg per day.
- Step 2. Consult a nutritionist.
Horses usually enter a new environment with one of two dietary histories. First, a list of everything the horse consumed prior to his sale is available, or, secondly, very little information is available about the previous diet. In either case, nutrition plays a central role in any physical transformation.
“Assuming the horse needs to gain weight, start with quality forage, either pasture or hay, and build upon that,” said Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., nutrition advisor for KER. “Introduce pasture gradually, starting with an hour or two then adding an hour each day. If feeding hay, begin by feeding 2% of body weight daily, then move into free-choice access.”
Horses needing to bulk up do best on concentrates that provide energy from multiple sources, starch from cereal grains (oats and barley), fat from vegetable oil or stabilized rice bran and fermentable fiber from beet pulp and soy hulls. “A well-formulated performance feed will likely fit the bill,” explained Whitehouse.
If the horse is in moderate body condition with no need to lose or gain weight, offer forage at 1.5-2% of body weight and feed enough of a fortified concentrate to maintain condition, again, following the manufacturer’s guidelines.
For overweight horses, use weight-reduction tools to help battle obesity: grazing muzzles, limited turnout in mediocre pasture, time in a drylot, use methods to slow consumption of hay, and a ration balancer or a vitamin and mineral supplement.
“Access to fresh water and a salt block will round out a balanced diet for all horses, regardless of body condition”, recommended Whitehouse.
- Step 3. Support gastrointestinal health.
Maintaining gastrointestinal health is a priority when elevating a horse’s care. Without a well-functioning digestive tract, horses will be unable to use nutrients supplied to them. One key to gastrointestinal tract health involves gut motility, promoted through free-choice access to forage for the majority of the day.
The stomach and hindgut are two important compartments of the gastrointestinal tract. Naturally, a combination of saliva and a continuous turnover of forage protect gastric mucosa. Horses faced with long stretches without eating, called “meal feeding,” are susceptible to gastric ulceration, a painful erosion in the mucosal lining of the stomach caused by overexposure to acid. A prescription-strength course of omeprazole will heal gastric ulcers, and over-the-counter supplements can keep ulcers from returning.
Hindgut acidosis also adversely affects weight gain and health. Two primary triggers for hindgut acidosis are overconsumption of starch-laden concentrates or overindulgence in sugar-rich grasses. When consuming excessive starch, some bypasses the small intestine, where it is normally digested and enters the hindgut. As the microorganisms of the hindgut process the starch, pH changes; causing damage to the intestinal lining, changing appetite, feed efficiency, manure, behavior, and performance.
- Step 4. Institute an exercise program.
Once a horse’s veterinary, hoof care, and nutritional needs have been satisfied, plan an appropriate exercise program. Be mindful that structured work consumes energy, so if a project horse is thin and under-conditioned, immediate exercise will slow weight gain. All performance goals should follow a reasonable schedule, allowing normal setbacks.
Equine Fitness: How to Build Muscle
Maintaining appropriate muscling among horses is vital to health and athleticism. “Horses need muscle mass to support a rider’s weight, perform the task at hand and protect and support their joints soft tissues, such as tendons and ligaments,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a KER nutritionist.
“A minimum of 10.6% protein is the daily intake recommended by the National Research Council. Excessive protein does not benefit the horse, and may have adverse effects on performance with negative environmental consequences, such as eutrophication,” explained Crandell.
Quality pasture, hay, and proper concentrates are adequate at fulfilling the amino acid requirements of the average horse. “When performance demands increase the protein requirement, through exercise or reproduction, consider supplementing protein. Provide a concentrated feed to gain extra calorie needs, or a high-protein ration balancer supplement. Fed in small amounts, this does not add many calories to the diet,” recommended Crandell.
Finally, other causes of poor muscling supplemental protein will not address include white muscle disease, polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM), and recurrent exertional rhabdomyolysis (tying-up). “Supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids with potent anti-inflammatory effects aid skeletal muscle repair, as well as vitamin E and polyphenols, found in yeast fermentates and green tea extracts,” Crandell shared.
- After a Layoff: Getting Your Horse Back in Shape Dec Season Horse In Shape Pic
It takes time to regain fitness after a period of inactivity or illness recovery. The longer a horse has been idle, the longer reconditioning will take. Restart an exercise program gradually. If recovering from an injury, keep your veterinarian in the loop every step of the way.
Importance of exercise. Exercise is essential to maintain muscle tone, hormonal balance, cardiovascular fitness, bone strength and mental stimulation. Active training increases the horse’s ability to exercise, extends the time before reaching fatigue, improves performance and decreases the risk of injury.
Slow and steady. Begin with light flatwork for 15-20 minutes, three or four sessions per week. Gradually increase intensity and duration and include rest breaks. If your horse sweats heavily, reduce intensity and duration, then slowly build up.
Get a grip on heart rate. Monitor your horse’s heart rate. Typical adult horses resting heart rate averages 28-48 beats per minute. Light trotting and cantering will elevate this rate, how much depends on duration, terrain, and footing. After exercise, the heart rate of a fit horse should return to a resting rate within 30 minutes. If it does not, the exercise regimen may be too intense.
Keep it interesting. Consider changing your routines with cross training. It actually prevents injuries when done properly.
- A dressage rider could add small jumps or a trail ride.
- A barrel racer could insert lateral work to keep flatwork interesting.
Repeating a common routine gets boring for both horse and rider. Work other disciplines into your routine – your horse may be more athletic than you thought!
Find appropriate help. Experienced trainers can make a huge impact on performance and improve your riding and horsemanship skills. Ask fellow riders for referrals and seek a trainer that understands your goals. Is competition your goal? Do you just want to ride your best? What is your budget? Will the trainer work within it? Work with someone you like and trust.
- Fish Oil May Help Muscle Adaptation
Post-exercise inflammation helps the body respond and adapt to exercise. Too much inflammation however causes muscle damage and loss of performance. How can you ensure that inflammation remains beneficial and not damaging? Feed fish oil.
“Certain fish oil is high in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which have anti-inflammatory properties, stunting inflammation at multiple cellular levels,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a KER nutritionist.
To determine if DHA decreases systemic inflammation in horses, 20 polo ponies were given 10, 20, and 50 g/day of DHA: plus regular grain and free-choice hay. Inflammation tests and a lactate threshold test were conducted at baseline and again 30 and 60 days later. Researchers found increased DHA levels in the bloodstream following oral supplementation. Only in the 10 g/day DHA group was post-exercise inflammation decreased. One possible explanation for this finding was that the diets lacked sufficient antioxidants, such as vitamin E.
In a recent study, KER monitored the effect of EO-3 supplements and exercise on blood serum Gamma-Glutamyl Transferase (GGT) levels and inflammation. The enzyme GGT breaks down glutathione, a potent antioxidant. As GGT levels rise, less glutathione is available to neutralize free radicals, leaving more cells susceptible to the damaging effects of oxidation. Horses supplemented with EO-3 had lower levels of GGT two and four hours after exercise. This may have resulted from a reduction in inflammation observed post-exercise in the horses fed EO-3.
- Stress Behavior, Diet, and Equine Hindgut Health Dec Season Eat Blue Pail Pic
“Studies show that the gastrointestinal tract and central nervous system exchange information, tempting researchers to debate whether it is possible to change behavior by controlling the microbiome,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a KER nutritionist.
Humans with depression have less diverse fecal microbiota compared with healthy individuals, indicating existence of a relationship between diet quality and the occurrence of depression or anxiety.
“Optimal nutrition tailored to your horse’s unique lifestyle will maximize health, quality of life, and potentially modify its behavior to reduce the negative influence of stressful situations,” relayed Crandell.
About Kentucky Equine Research
For 30 years Kentucky Equine Research has developed innovative solutions to the health and nutritional challenges inherent in equine management. The results of studies conducted at its research farm, as well as advancements in equine nutrition from institutions around the world, are applied and thoroughly tested in the creation of KER products.