Feeding the off the track thoroughbred

Feeding the off the track thoroughbred brought to you by Nicole Groyer, Nutritionist at Connolly’s Red Mills

Like any professional athlete, the diet of a racehorse in training is high in energy and has to be carefully planned and managed in order to perform at the highest level. However, once their workload and energy requirements change, so will their feed requirements. An ex-racehorse coming out of training has to not only become accustomed to his new home and routine, but also to different feeding practices now that its career has changed.

Every horse is different and should be fed according to their individual needs. Factors to consider when deciding on the most appropriate diet for your horse include their height, weight, life stage, metabolism, temperament, workload.


Energy Sources

Providing an excitable and blood horse with the energy or calories they need, without exacerbating an already overly exuberant attitude, can be challenging. However, it is possible to promote a more even temperament by keeping the starch and sugar levels low and instead providing energy (calories) from ‘slow-release’ energy sources including digestible super fibres (e.g. beet pulp and alfalfa meal) and oil.

Starch and sugars are rapidly broken down by the horse into glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream via the small intestine. They provide the horse with a rush of fuel known as ‘fast-release’ energy. This type of energy can be very useful for those that are very laid-back.

Naturally ‘fizzy’ individuals, like thoroughbreds will benefit from a diet that is lower in starch and instead uses digestible fibres and oil as alternative energy sources. Fibre is a source of ‘slow-release’ energy, fermented gradually in the horse’s hindgut and so the energy is released over a long period of time.

Horse Care Ultra Cubes it is cereal grain free, ultra-low in starch and contain highly digestible fibres and oils, therefore making it an ideal feed for your racehorse in retraining who needs a non-heating feed. Horse Care Ultra Cubes also contains the added benefits of our unique RED MILLS Nutrition Care package.

Likewise, oil is an excellent source of ‘non-heating’ energy and is a particularly useful source of calories when feeding a high-spirited horse. Therefore, adding some Foran Equine Kentucky Karron Oil to the diet will be beneficial.

Calming Supplements


A calming supplement can also be enormously beneficial for anxious individuals. There are a high number of calmers on the market and it is important to note when making your choice that some calmers are based on one single ingredient (e.g. magnesium). Unless your horse actually has low magnesium levels these products may be of limited benefit. Therefore, we recommend using a supplement which contains a combination of magnesium, B-vitamins and L Tryptophan, such as Foran Equine Nutri-Calm Syrup or Gel.



Topline Muscle

Achieving well developed topline and muscle tone takes time as your former racehorse begins its journey as a riding horse.

Exercise and nutrition work hand-in-hand to achieve a well-defined topline. Exercise will activate muscle conditioning, while a balanced diet containing high quality proteins will provide amino acid building blocks to build and repair a healthy muscular system. No two horses are the same and some require more support than others.

For weak individuals feeding a hydrolysed protein supplement such as Foran Equine Muscle Prep, which also contains added vitamin E and B-vitamins, can help to support and hasten muscle development. It is important to choose a feed which contains high quality protein ingredients and amino acids to support recovery and muscle development throughout training and conditioning


Gut Health

Keeping concentrate meals small and frequent, offering plenty of clean forage, and limiting starch intake can help to reduce acid build up and support gastric health. Our Horse Care Ultra Cubes are low in starch and high in digestible oils and fibres to support gut health. The Care Package also includes a natural gastric acid buffer, prebiotics, and probiotics to support digestive function. If your horse is especially prone to digestive issues, then adding a digestive health supplement such as Foran Equine Nutri-Guard Extra to their ration can be beneficial especially at time of stress or when their diet or management is changing.








Importance of Forage

Forage is the most important part of your horse’s diet, whether it is fresh (i.e. grass) or preserved (i.e. haylage or hay) it’s essential that your horse receives adequate levels in their diet. As trickle feeders, good levels of dietary fibre are essential for maintaining digestive health – In the wild horses will graze up to 18 hours a day. Ideally forage should be provided ad lib but if this isn’t possible intake should not be restricted to less than 1.5% of bodyweight per day (7.5kg for a 500kg horse).

This not only provides them with an important source of nutrients, but it is also essential to keep their digestive system functioning effectively and promotes psychological well-being. Lack of forage in the diet can lead to multiple issues including gastric ulcers, colic, loose droppings and stereotypic behaviours. Understanding the nutritional value and role of forage in the horse’s diet will help you make the best choice for your horse.



Good Feeding practices when feeding the Ex Racehorse

1. Feed each horse as an individual. Consider height, weight, life stage, metabolism, temperament and workload

2. Make all changes to the diet gradually over 7-10 days to minimise the risk of digestive disturbances

3. Forage is the most important part of your horses diet! Provide forage ad-lib where possible

4. Feed little and often, split your hard feed into 2 or 3 meals daily

5. Weigh your feed scoop! Feed by weight not volume

6. Assess body condition regularly, use a Body Condition Score (BCS) system

7. Have your vet or dentist check your horse’s teeth and make sure you worm appropriately

8. Watch for signs of ulcers and, if found, take measures treat as recommended by your vet

9. Provide fresh clean water at all times

10. Keep to a routine to help your horse adjust to its new career


Nicole Groyer

Nicole is an Animal Science Equine graduate from University College Dublin. She joined Connolly’s RED MILLS Nutrition team in 2018 and has been a key member providing technical support across Ireland, Europe, and the Middle East.

Having worked in all areas of the equine industry, Nicole has an extensive understanding of performance horse nutrition, as well as the challenges owners, breeders, and trainers, may face. She has worked closely with sport horse stables, stud farms, and trainers supporting customers with nutrition advice, forage analysis, and diet planning.

Nicole has her own ex racehorse, Vartano, who she retrained, so combines her technical knowledge with a passion for retraining racehorses to help support horses and riders in their retraining journey.


Photo by Laurence Dunne


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