Feeding an OTTB-Turned Barrel Horse

Off-track Thoroughbreds have special nutritional needs as they begin transitioning to new careers.

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Feeding an OTTB-Turned Barrel Horse
Barrel horses might actually need to be fed feeds higher in starch than some other sport horses, because the competitive work they do is anaerobic.| Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Q: I am thinking about adopting a Thoroughbred off the track for future use as a barrel horse. I know that horses at the track are typically fed a lot of grain because they are working so hard, but I don’t plan on working my new horse that much in the first couple of months. How much grain should I feed him?–via email

A: Your new horse might surprise you with how much grain he needs, even though he’s no longer racing. In most cases—unless he is injured—he’ll come off the track extremely fit with a lot of lean muscle mass, which means his metabolic rate will be very high. If you don’t feed adequate calories to meet this metabolic demand, he’ll lose weight. Remembering that we shouldn’t make sudden dietary changes, because that can cause digestive distress, you’ll initially want to continue feeding him the kind of feed he received at the track, but in a smaller quantity.

Also talk to your veterinarian about having him scoped for ulcers. Gastric ulcers are very common in racehorses for a number of reasons, including these animals’ relatively low-forage, high-starch grain diets and the intense level of training required. Gastric ulcers can hinder a horse’s ability to maintain condition, so treating them is a priority

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Written by:

Clair Thunes, PhD, is an equine nutritionist who owns Clarity Equine Nutrition, based in Gilbert, Arizona. She works as a consultant with owners/trainers and veterinarians across the United States and globally to take the guesswork out of feeding horses and provides services to select companies. As a nutritionist she works with all equids, from WEG competitors to Miniature donkeys and everything in between. Born in England, she earned her undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and her master’s and doctorate in nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Growing up, she competed in a wide array of disciplines and was an active member of the U.K. Pony Club. Today, she serves as the district commissioner for the Salt River Pony Club.

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