Feeding Off-Track Thoroughbreds – The Horse

horse wearing blanket, eating hay in snowy pasture
The base of your OTTB’s diet should be forage to reduce digestive disturbances during the transition to a new diet. | iStock

Q. I am a first-time OTTB owner and recently purchased my horse directly from the racetrack. She is going to let down over the winter before I start riding her again in the spring. How can I ensure she is receiving proper nutrition during this transition?

A. Congratulations on starting the journey with your new off-the-track Thoroughbred! These horses make excellent riding partners, and you won’t find a breed with more heart. The best horse I ever owned was an OTTB!

When creating a nutrition plan for racehorses moving into a new career, I like to think of the transition as occurring in three phases. Phase 1 is the immediate transition period lasting approximately one month, during which time the horse physically leaves the racing environment and begins his new life as a non-racehorse. Phase 2 follows, lasts from one to six (or more) months, and is the “stabilization” period when the horse is actively acclimating to his new life. Phase 3 begins when he has successfully transitioned and is marked by an ability to maintain a healthy weight and the proper mindset to train for his new career. , which may indicate the presence of gastric ulcers or other medical conditions that require veterinary attention. You’ll know you’ve reached Phase 3 when your horse has reached a healthy weight and body condition and maintains it well.

The Phase 3 nutrition plan may or may not look like Phase 2, depending on the specific situation. It may be that your OTTB will do well with his Phase 2 ration on a long-term basis, with adjustments in feeding rates made to accommodate changes in exercise level that would require either more or less energy in the diet. Some OTTBs do become easy keepers once they have settled into their new lifestyle, so moving to a ration balancer may be the best option for them on a long-term basis. Essentially, Phase 3 is when you start thinking about feeding your OTTB like you would any other breed of horse in any discipline, which is to feed plenty of good-quality forage paired with a nutritionally balanced product designed to supply essential nutrients missing in forage along with the correct level of calories needed to maintain a healthy body condition.

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