Racehorses don’t just munch on bales of hay day after day. Like any finely tuned athlete, racehorses consume a diet that will give their lean muscles bursts of energy when they need it, packed full of all the essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients a champion horse requires to perform at its optimum best.
While different trainers and owners will put their horses of a variety of nutritional diets, basically a racehorse’s diet will resemble what we’ll discover in this post.
The racehorse’s age will also have an impact on what they eat. Horses that are 2 to 3 years old are still growing and developing, so they require more protein, calcium and energy for strong bone and muscle growth.
It’s not all about performance on race day. It’s also about general health and wellness for the animal.
Racehorses Are Usually Stabled and Not Free Range Feeders
With a horse that’s free to roam huge paddocks, a field or enclosure with horse fencing, it’s impossible to control their diet. That’s why thoroughbreds and racehorses are usually stabled so owners, trainers and staff can strictly control what they eat and when. Especially on the lead up to a big race like Aintree.
Concentrated foods that are easily digested are usually fed to a racehorse just before and immediately after strenuous exercise, whether it be training or an actual race.
Basic Nutritional Requirements for Thoroughbreds and Racehorses
Basically a well fed racehorse will require the following four essential food groups to maintain health, develop strength, endurance and enhance performance:
- Fats & Oils
Energy – Whole oats, corn and barley are the most common foods fed to horses to bolster their energy levels. Even sunflower seeds are fed on occasion, as well as beans. A racehorse can eat up to 5kg of whole oats a day. Not only do oats give horses massive energy boosts, they are well digested and tolerated, as well as being a palatable favourite of horses. Barley is often fed to horses that need to gain some lean body weight. Younger horses and horses involved in intense training will generally need double the energy intake of a resting horse. Plus, racehorses carry weight, further boosting their energy requirements to maintain speed throughout the race, as well as during training.
Protein – Proteins are all about providing amino acids. Non-essential amino acids are naturally produced in the horse’s body, while essential amino acids must be introduced via food intake. Much of a thoroughbred’s protein comes through eating soybeans, as well as lupins and tick beans. The more active a horse is, the more protein is required to maintain muscle mass and repair muscle tissue after intense exercise, much the same way as bodybuilders consume proteins before and after a workout.
Fats & Oils – Vegetable oils combined with Vitamin E added to a horse’s diet has a number of benefits. The most notable is that fatty acids can reduce the rate of glucose depletion during periods of extended exercise, including long races like the Melbourne Cup. Cereals substituted with fats and oils also reduces hindgut weight, which results in a racehorse running faster and unencumbered. Canola oil is another suitable oil of choice.
Fibre – Hay and chaff are fed to racehorses to provide fibre and roughage in their diet. Fibre aids in digestion, and is super important when feeding a thoroughbred a high energy and high protein diet. Without good amounts of natural fibre the horse’s digestive tract will become majorly imbalanced. Horses should periodically be allowed to roam a pasture for a break from stable life, as well as to consume natural roughage.
A racehorse typically requires double the energy intake of a maintenance (resting) horse. While trainers tend to stable racehorses to control their feeding, for the overall general health of the horse, it should be allowed to forage for about 50% of its food intake, with the remainder comprising of specific concentrated feed.
Vitamins and minerals can be added to the feed to ensure the horse is receiving an adequate supply, and soya oil and cod liver oil, along with E vitamins, will aid in the retention of those all-important energy levels when the horse is on the track either training or racing.