Good horses are invariably good eaters. A racehorse that won’t eat up will tend to go backwards quickly. When trainers talk about horses that “don’t need much work”, they’re usually talking about horses that they can’t work properly because they’re not eating up.
A good doing horse is one that continues to eat even with a high workload. All thoroughbred racehorses should be gaining or maintaining their weight during racing campaigns. The more that a trainer can keep weight on a horse, the greater the chances of the horse racing consistently well.
So how do you get your horse to eat up? Here are some ideas:
1. Make sure your horse’s teeth are in order. Horses should see a dentist regularly. It is critical that the dental work is performed by someone qualified, such as graduates of the College of Equine Dentistry Australia. Often, neglected teeth are the reason for a horse failing to do well.
2. Get back to basics. With the enormous range of equine vitamin and mineral supplements on the market, it is easy to feel that if you’re not adding numerous powders to your horse’s feeds, you’re not giving yourself every chance of winning. The one critical thing in the diet of a racehorse is carbohydrates. If your horse isn’t eating up, cut out all the additives and fancy concentrates and processed feeds, and try feeding oats and corn with some chaff, and nothing else. It makes sense to feed extruded (processed) grains from a scientific point of view, but if your horse won’t eat those feeds it’s better to go back to raw grains than persist with processed feeds that your horse doesn’t like.
3. Reduce feed sizes. Horses have small stomachs and should be fed frequent, small feeds. Modern stable management tends to dictate that only one or two large feeds are fed each day, and some horses become overwhelmed with the volume of feed presented to them. If you temporarily reduce feeds to 1-2 kg grain with some chaff, these horses will start to finish off their feeds again. You can then gradually increase the volume.
4. Experiment with sweet feeds. You can try using a commercial sweet feed, though I’d suggest using one of the base feeds, such as Hygain’s Powatorque, to which you can add raw grains. This way you are assured that your horse is getting the vitamins and minerals that it needs, without the variation inherent in feeding “complete” feeds in different volumes (depending on how much eat horse can eat). You can also add your own sweeteners to raw grain feeds, such as blending molasses with bran and mixing it with feeds, or by adding a small quantity of apple cider vinegar to each feed.
5. Monitor the quality of hay and grain. Hay and chaff can be extremely variable in quality, affected by things like seasonal factors, growing conditions and storage time. Hay or chaff that is musty, mouldy, dusty, discoloured, sour-smelling or overly dry should be returned to the feed merchant. Many horses are put off their grain feeds by poor quality chaff. White chaff such as oaten and wheaten chaff should appear clean and crisp, and lucerne chaff should be full-bodied, and rich in colour, with a strong, sweet smell.
6. Treat your horse for worms. Intestinal parasites are common causes of poor condition in horses. Ensure that you frequently drench your racehorse. Rotational use of worming products is generally recommended, and you should ensure that worming drenches and pastes contain both ivermectin and praziquantel for broad spectrum effectiveness.
7. Experiment with supplements. Sometimes, increasing a horse’s vitamin-B intake will stimulate appetite. Another proven approach to stimulating appetite is using low doses of arsenic, such as that found in Naturevet’s Jurocyl.
8. Ensure access to plenty of hay and fresh water. Many racehorses have been found to suffer from gastric ulcers, due to a combination of highly acidic feeds, stressful regimes, and insufficient access to good quality roughage. Horses with ulcers tend to be poorer doers, and quickly go backwards, struggling to hold their condition. There are products available to treat ulcers, but prevention is the best cure.
Do you know of other ways to get horses to eat up? Please leave a comment below.