Ask The Nutrition Experts: What Can I Do To Help My OTTB Gain Condition?

Question: My 8-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, Caboose, is thin, actually thinner than he was when he came off the track a year ago (ribs on full display). He’s turned out for 14-18 hours a day and receives the following ration: five flakes of grass hay, 7 lb (3.2 kg) high-fat grain, 3 cups corn oil, 1 lb (0.45 kg) balancer pellet, 1.5 lb (0.7 kg) of a flax/rice bran supplement, and other supplements (biotin, digestive support, and devil’s claw). He’s in minimal work. We’ve investigated dental problems and gastric ulcer issues. Any suggestions?

Answer from Kentucky Equine Research: From my review, the current diet should be supplying appropriate nutrition for weight gain, if not oversupplying key nutrients. When body condition scoring him, is the visibility of his ribs your main concern, or is he lacking condition in general (topline, flanks, etc.)?

A description of the pasture would have been helpful here, as good-quality forage can have a significant impact on the horse’s overall health and wellness. Providing free-choice access to good-quality hay and pasture often provides a large portion of the horse’s caloric needs. When weight gain is needed, providing free-choice access to hay is recommended, particularly in cases of limited pasture.

With this in mind, five flakes of grass hay may not be supplying enough forage depending on the weight of the flakes and pasture availability and quality. Switching to a high-calorie forage, like alfalfa, would boost the number of calories derived from forage.

Another consideration is the amount of dietary fat in Caboose’s diet, as you are feeding several high-fat feedstuffs (concentrate, corn oil, rice bran). Studies have shown a decrease in fiber digestion and utilization when large amounts of soybean oil were fed.

To simplify the feeding program but supply appropriate nutrition, I suggest reducing the number of feeds and supplements offered to just one or two. I would choose one energy-dense feed and feed that according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Because you are trying to increase Caboose’s body condition, you will find yourself feeding close to the upper limits of those recommendations. It would not be unusual, for instance, to find yourself feeding 10-12 lb (4.5-5.5 kg) of feed daily or even a little more. Increasing meal size should be done slowly, over the course of 10-14 days.

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Offering a third meal will allow for smaller grain meals and will help maximize digestibility and feed utilization. Including a ration balancer is unnecessary when feeding 7 lb (3.2 kg) of fortified feed, resulting in overfeeding micronutrients.

Horses that struggle to maintain a healthy weight, despite receiving appropriate nutrition, often benefit from a daily digestive health product that supports optimal health and digestive function. EquiShure is one such product; it is a unique digestive buffer that features a protective coating to ensure its delivery to the hindgut.

EquiShure can help balance the support fiber digestion and potentially improve feed efficiency, ultimately resulting in weight gain. EquiShure can be fed along with your current digestive health supplement or you can consider using the total-tract digestive buffer RiteTrac as it contains both gastric support and EquiShure. Australian horse owners should consider these products.

For a horse in light exercise, this feeding rate is relatively high to not see improvement in weight and condition. Further consultation with your veterinarian may be needed to determine any underlying reasons for Caboose’s elevated energy needs.

Reprinted courtesy of Kentucky Equine Research. Visit ker.com for the latest in equine nutrition and management, and subscribe to Equinews to receive these articles directly

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