Feeding Race Prospects & Racehorses: Dr. Potter, DVM, Texas A&M Univ.
Over the past 50 years the physical performance of the racehorse has improved very little. Compare
that with the human athlete the past 50 years and you observe a dramatic inequality. Yes, speeds over
common distances have improved some, but comparatively small when you compare any
improvements to the human athlete. Despite the sophisticated breeding programs to promote horses
with greater racing ability there is very little measurable improvements. Furthermore, to many of our
equine athletes succumb to crippling injuries with 95% of these brought on by fatigue and
compromised skeletal systems.

The performance of humans improves yearly, monthly and in particular cases even daily in some
athletic events. Why? It is the constant development in nutrition and training regimens. Horses can
also be expected to perform better if they are properly conditioned, fed a diet with the proper "fuel"
(energy) and other nutrients needed to do the work.

A horse that is "dead fit" and fed with the proper "fuel", will run as fast as genetically possible if that
horse has "heart".
Many people believe "heart" is size - but "heart" is closely related to "fuel" and
fitness. If the horse has the available "fuel" (energy) and the nutrients necessary to use that energy,
the horse can voluntarily run faster and perform at a higher level than horses with insufficient "fuel"
and other nutrients to perform this task.

When our racehorses nutritional requirements are met with accurate nutrient requirements, better feed
management and proper training regimens, performances will be improved over the status quo of
unbalanced feeding programs, irregular amounts and at inappropriate times.
Race Bred Prospects
The goal: To produce and maintain a successful racehorse.  Winning is important but preparation is
vital.

This process starts soon after the foal is delivered.  Two vital goals are: Promote early growth and
sound skeletal formation. Thus the weanling can't have the same diet as the yearling and the yearling
can't have the same diet as the 2-year old. Long yearlings in training must be given a different nutrient
mix than yearlings not being exercised.

A recent study of 58 farms raising 2,000 thoroughbred and quarter horse race bred prospects
revealed a common detrimental feeding practice: The farms are failing to feed the high ratio of
concentrate (grains, fat, etc) to hay necessary for weanlings to develop to high-class racehorses. 90%
of the farms were trying to grow weanlings by feeding more hay than concentrate. 44% of these young
horses were deficient in amino acids, unbalanced in their mineral concentrations or in mineral ratios.

Concentrate to hay ratios: Weanlings 70%/30%; Yearlings 60%/40%; Long Yearling (In training)
60%/40%; 2-Yr Old (In training) 55%/45%

Overfeeding hay and unbalanced concentrate will combine to give the "pot-belly" appearance you see
so often.

Yearlings that are not being conditioned for sale can achieve a moderate rate of growth on improved
pasture. A yearlings digestive system can tolerate more roughage than a weanling. For yearlings
being conditioned for sale or being retained for pre-race training have significantly different
requirements. These yearlings need a concentrate with a minimium of 14% crude protein; 0.6% lysine;
0.7% calcium; 0.4% phosphorus; 7% or more fiber; not more than 1.4 megacalories of digestible
energy per pound. Once intense training or forced excersice begins, the feeding program should be
analyzed again.
Horses In Race Training
Researchers have recently found that the fuel supply to the muscles and the horses ability to use that
fuel, may be altered by different ingredients in the diet, including glycogen (carbohydrates) and
vitamin B-15 and fats.

Racehorses require twice as much "fuel" (energy) as a do non-working horses. If more energy is taken
out than put in, you will have an under-performing racehorse. During regular training and racing, a
racehorse must perform both aerobic and anaerobic work. Aerobic work occurs during exercise in
which the heart rate doesn't exceed about 150 bpm. In aerobic work the horse is able to get enough
oxygen to the tissues to burn fat as a fuel source. During anaerobic work (heartbeat typically above
200 bpm), the horse is unable to rely totally on fat as a fuel source. For this work it must rely primarily
on blood glucose and liver and muscle glycogen.
In a race or hard work, the horse primarily uses
carbohydrates (glucose/glycogen) and fat.  A horse with a reserve amount of glycogen, glucose
(carbohydrates) and fat will work harder and delay fatigue.
To meet the short duration, high-speed
requirements of anaerobic exercise, it is critical that a racehorse receive enough readily available
energy from carbohydrates to maintain blood glucose and store energy in the form of muscle glycogen.

This energy must be managed at a safe level to the horse.  A horse in intense training has very high
energy requirements and
usually has trouble getting enough energy from conventional feeding
routines.
The racehorse also needs a comparatively large amount of digestible starch in their diet to
meet aerobic and particularly anaerobic exercise. Soluable carbohydrates such as oats, barley and
corn can be mixed together to produce concentrates of varying energy concentrations. Cereal grains
should be processed - either ground or "cooked" - to promote digestion in the small intestine and to
insure high amounts of glucose are absorbed.
When horses deplete their muscle fuel stores
(carbohydrates) they are unable to work at a high-level.

Many studies have proven that adding fat to the diet increases the racehorses ability to store fuel,
thus better work performance. Fat adds safe energy concentration. Start with about 10% fat in the
feed concentrate. Although the amount of energy supplied daily is important, of greater importance is
preparing the horse for short term, high-velocity, anerobic work.

NOTE: To achieve maximum performance in a racehorse, feed a high-fat, high-carbohydrate
diet...NOT a high-fat, high-fiber diet.

Remember: The energy requirements for work take precedence over the storage of fat as energy.
Animals that are not fed enough energy to maintain body weight will use the energy stored in body
tissues...including muscle glycogen stores. A thin or under-weight horse may not be physiologically
able to exercise strenuously because it does not have enough energy.

For thin horses exercising , adding fat to the diet increases the glycogen stores within the muscle.
Feeding fat tot eh racehorse, even with a reduced body condition, will add stamina due to the increase
glycogen levels.

Lower fiber feeds are usually more energy dense than higher fiber feeds. If you are feeding a good
quality hay, no additional fiber is necessary for the racehorse. Horses that are calorie deficient cannot
run with the same intensity as those with energy from concentrate and glycogen stored in muscles.
Furthermore, excess body fat increases thermal stress on the horse, but a fat-supplemented diet
reduces the thermal stress on a horse. Thus it is important to maintain the horse in lean condition, but
not "ribby".

Feed them a fat-supplemented diet with adequate carbohydrates  and you will likely see an
improvement in the horses performance, with fewer injuries and less fatigue.
Protein
Some attention to protein is important, but generally should not be the most critical consideration for
racehorses. Protein is often fed under the misconception that the crude protein in concentrate should
be raised as the racehorse level of activity increases. Horses do require a small increase in protein for
optimum production and performance, but having a high concentrate of protein in a mature racehorse
diet can do more harm than good. A balanced diet of concentrate will provide adequate protein as long
as the horses energy levels are being supplied with additional feed intake.

Adding supplemental fat to the concentrate reduces the protein levels. A 12% protein feed is sufficient
when no fat is added to the feed. Use a 14% protein feed when adding supplemental fat for energy
stores. This is especially important for 2-year olds since they are still growing.

Feeding high protein diets to mature racehorses is useless. Giving more protein than it requires
creates metabolic stress on the horse and is an unnecessary expense.
Vitamins
Vitamin needs are not as defined in horses and many other species. Saying that, vitamin
supplementation is of great interest to racehorse owners, to the extend that vitamins are many times
grossly overfed. Excess vitamin supplementation does not improve performance and in fact, can be
dangerous or toxic. Nevertheless, horses need enough vitamins to supply their needs.

Vitamin A: Horses obtain significant amounts of fat-soluble vitamins A, E, D and K through high-quality
hay. Vitamin A helps maintain normal eating behaviour and respiratory health. However excessive
vitamin A may eventually lead to bone weakness.

The feed concentrate of a racehorse should contain between 1,000 and 2,000 IU per pound of vitamin
A.

Vitamin D: Requirements of vitamin D have not been defined. Exposure to sunlight and sun cured hay
show sufficient amounts. Too much vitamin D has shown calcification to soft tissue.

Vitamin E: Vitamin E has received more attention lately because of its possible role in reducing tissue
damage and as an anti-oxidant. Most manufacturers add vitamin E to the racehorse mixture. If you mix
your own or your feed or it hasn't been added to your feed concentrate, add 45 IU per pound of feed.

Vitamin K: Synthesized and absorbed in the hind gut - there is no dietary requirement for it. Adequate
amounts of this vitamin are produced in the anaerobic bacteria of the hind gut. Many racehorse
owners and trainers give additional vitamin k for "bleeders". It's influence on bleeding has yet to be
documented in equine research.

B-Vitamins: The most  misunderstood and the most widely used vitamin. B vitamins are synthesized
like vitamin K. Water soluble vitamin B12 is quickly voided in the urine and do not increase packed cell
volume or increase hemoglobin concentration. Instead of over using the B vitamins, it is recommended
that you rely more on conditioning and exercise to increase blood volume and oxygen-carrying
capacity.

Research indicates that an exercising horse may need addition B1 (thiamine). Loss of appetite could
be an indication of adding B1. "Track sour" horses are many times low on B1. Adding brewer's yeast to
the diet is reported to increase appetite and energize the racehorse.

Biotin: Limited clinical reports have claimed about 1/3 of the horses researched have had some
improvement in hoof growth from the use of this vitamin. More recent research has revealed that
d-biotin increases the health of the overall hoof wall, health of the coronary band and prevention of
white line syndrome.

NOTE: In most cases it takes 9 months to a year or more to see the effects of biotin. If you have a
horse with flaky hoof walls, 15 milligrams of biotin per day appears to help.
Minerals
Racehorses require a balanced supply of minerals for maintenance of skeletal tissue, muscle
contraction and energy transfer. Racehorses should have as much calcium as phosphorus in their
diets. Diets with more phosphorus than calcium can lead to weak bones and subsequent lameness.
Because cereal grains contain more phosphorus than calcium, improper ratios are common in the
horse industry.

Electrolytes: During workouts, racehorses lose a significant amount of electrolytes (sodium, chloride,
potassium). Usually these can replace with hay, feed minerals and salt. However, most commercial
feeds do not contain enough for horses that sweat a lot, particularly in the summer. Add about 3 oz.
electrolytes per day for horses in race training. Watch the potassium levels. An exercised horse needs
about 1.2% of total diet.

Adding electrolytes to water is not recommended. It can reduce the amount of water the racehorse
drinks.  
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