Nyquist Wins The Kentucky Derby! Let’s Talk Thoroughbreds.

So Nyquist strolled down the field today and won the Kentucky Derby. I have to admit that I missed it; I was on a horse. One that is 3/4 TB (see above photograph of him and my lovely daughter)  so not quite exactly the “real deal” but he might as well be. I’ll catch the replay later.

TB’s and OTTB’s have always been my horse of choice. I love the way they think; give them a question and they try to answer. The answers might be eclectic but they sure try. Being patient with their method is key. I love the way they want to work, and work hard. The trickiest thing in getting a TB fit is to NOT overwork them; I have to remind myself of this constantly. Doing too much on a horse who feels good today makes a sore horse tomorrow, which can begin a vicious cycle. It’s hard though when they keep insisting that an extension here would be a really great idea!

I grew up riding them. I learned to train on them. My training philosophies evolved from working with horses who were forward, who were sensitive, who wanted to please and wanted to understand but wouldn’t tolerate being held on to or overly controlled. It taught me how to create a partnership through freedom and showing the horse how joyfully we could create movement together. TB’s like to move. Tap into that and you’re going to have fun.

It has always bothered me to hear the stereotype that TB’s are crazy. Sure, there are outliers in every breed. But I’ve found my TB’s to be the most sensible horses I’ve ever trained and ridden. I sincerely believe that the reason so many TB’s struggle to accept training, to be able to be calm, to be able to focus on work, is because they are being fed a diet that simply doesn’t work for them.

Growing up we fed hay. Lots and lots and lots of hay. We fed oats. Then sweet feed came along, and then pelleted feeds. I wish I had been observing closer but I can say that it seems like the arrival of the crazy TB started around then. Until then, that’s all we rode and some were hotter and some were calmer but for the most part, they did it all – hunters, jumpers, dressage, eventing – and when I lived out west, they barrel raced and even cut cattle and did ranch work.

Today I read constantly about how quirky they are. How hot they are, how untrainable they are, how all the want to do is run. And yet, I don’t have that experience with mine. I sincerely believe that TB’s are being made nutty by being fed incorrectly. It makes me sad because this is an incredible breed with amazing drive and heart and so many of them are like kids on sugar highs – too much energy being generated. The “hard-keeper” concept drives this. Give them more food because they need more calories because they are thin. So the calories go in, the energy goes up and the horse burns even MORE calories, resulting in the “hard-keeper” phenomena. I don’t believe it. No matter what condition a horse is in when it gets here, we feed it for nutrition first. Once you sort out what the deficiencies are (and yes, OTTB’s come from the track very nutrient depleted) most horses calorie requirements – even in average to moderate work – are covered by forage.

Feed companies are in the business of selling feed. If they can convince the consumer that their horse needs 12 lbs of whatever-it-is, they have succeeded in their job of selling feed. Remember this has nothing to do with the well-being of the horse. My opinion, based on a lot of fact, is that TB’s are being made to feel crazy by what they are fed. In general, horses want to be quiet and relaxed in their lives. If your horse is not please consider that perhaps what he is being fed is not in his best interest. Going back to basics and reevaluating what your horse really needs to eat to thrive is the first thing you should do if you don’t have a quiet, willing partner.

Let’s Talk About Forage

My feeding philosophy is simple:  horses weren’t designed to live the life we’ve put upon them and it’s our responsibility to feed them in a way that duplicates their natural lifestyle when at all possible.  Let’s look at forage requirements on this page.

The first hard and fast rule about feeding horses is this:  THEY NEED FORAGE.  Horses should have 24/7 access to forage. If your horse is an easy keeper, then this might mean low quality forage that is low in sugar and starches, perhaps even in a slow feeder bag, or grazing in a field that has little grass available.  If your horse is metabolic or prone to laminitis, you might have to soak that hay in order to provide 24/7 forage and still put it in a slow feeder bag.  If your horse is in work and you’re always struggling a bit to keep him in good weight, then higher quality forage is necessary.  If your horse is in hard work then the best quality, free choice forage will be essential.

Providing horses with forage 24/7 can be very expensive. For example, I break out the feed costs of all my horses and one of mine eats $4.50 in hay every day.  That’s $135.00 a month in hay costs alone.  If you are boarding your horse, please understand that the biggest upfront cost your barn has to handle is hay.  Many barns keep costs down by not feeding adequate forage.  The ultimate cost of this is passed onto the consumer, who then often has a horse with ulcers that is difficult to keep weight on, has behavioral issues and truly is mentally focused on getting food instead of work, because that’s how horses are hard wired.  This then translates to buying ulcer medications (cha-ching!), weight gain supplements (cha-ching!) and behavioral supplements and extra training (cha-ching!), vet bills for colicing horses as well as having an unhappy horse and an unhappy owner in general.  Hungry horses just really aren’t their best selves.

Many commercial barns do not have adequate pasture for horses to graze in the summer.  This can very region to region but where I live, in the southeast, we have optimum grazing situations if managed correctly.  For example, I have approximately 15 acres in grass and my pastures are managed for easy keepers, medium keepers and horses who need to gain weight.  I try to keep no more than five horses here at any given time so as to ensure adequate grazing.  In summer, when horses come in during the hotter, buggier part of the day, they have hay in their stalls.

An unfortunate part of horse keeping and horse ownership is that it is expensive.  However, where you choose to spend your dollars can be crucial to your horses health and it is worth crunching numbers to determine if you are boarding in a situation where you’d be better off paying more somewhere else and getting the forage your horse needs to be healthy.  If you keep your horses at home, you have complete control over this and should make it your first priority.  Once you are sure your horse is receiving adequate forage, you can focus on nutrition.

The bottom line is this:  forage should be the mainstay of your horses diet.  Since we have taken away the option of horses having the ability to go seek out their own forage, we have to provide it.  It’s not possible to have truly healthy horses and not provide adequate forage.  I am happy to refer you to hay dealers that I have found to be reliable and trustworthy.