Off-the-track Thoroughbreds (OTTB) can be wonderful companions and athletes, but they do come with their share of breed-specific challenges.

After retiring from the racing industry, these horses often require specific care and training to adapt to new disciplines or leisure riding. Your OTTB also needs thoughtful feeding and management to transition from their high-performance diet to one that matches their new activity level.

Racehorses typically consume large amounts of high-energy feeds to support their intense exercise regime. Transitioning to a forage-based diet suitable for your OTTB’s new lifestyle is important, but must be done gradually to avoid weight loss or digestive upset.

Many OTTBs retire with injuries or health conditions that may require attention. These horses may also exhibit behaviors such as cribbing, weaving, or stall walking owing to their previous environment. Providing ample turnout, socialization with other horses, and quality veterinary care can help mitigate health concerns.

Understanding their background, needs, and potential is key to successfully managing these spirited and athletic animals. Continue reading to learn more about caring for a feeding your Off-the-track Thoroughbred.

Managing Off-the-track Thoroughbreds

Thoroughbreds are bred for speed and performance. On the track, their lives are highly regimented with structured routines, which can include intense training and limited turnout.

This lifestyle shapes their behavior, expectations and responses. These horses are accustomed to busy stable environments, frequent interactions with trainers and handlers, and short, intense bursts of exercises.

When you first bring your new OTTB home, it’s important to be patient and empathetic, recognizing that your horse is adjusting to an entirely new way of life. They must be gradually acclimated to their new surroundings.

This means introducing changes slowly, whether it’s a new feeding regimen, different types of exercise, or even the amount of time they spend in a pasture. What might seem normal to other horses may initially be unfamiliar and stressful for an OTTB.

Consistent, gentle handling and a predictable routine can help these horses feel secure as they learn to understand and trust their new environment and handlers. Positive reinforcement also plays a key role in helping them adapt.

Health Concerns of OTTBs

Physically, the transition from racing to a new career can be demanding. Many OTTBs retire with some level of wear and tear on their musculoskeletal system, so a thorough veterinary evaluation is essential.

This evaluation should guide their exercise and rehabilitation program. Your veterinarian will assess your horse for joint disorders, tendon and ligament strains, or even fractures, which can be the result of repetitive high-speed workouts.

It’s also important to monitor your OTTB’s weight and body condition closely, as changes in diet and exercise can significantly affect their physical well-being.

Retired thoroughbred racehorses also frequently suffer from gastric ulcers due to stress and feeding practices associated with racing. Respiratory issues and hoof problems are also frequent in OTTBs.

Proactively addressing these health concerns with appropriate management is crucial for the overall health and well-being of your horse.

Gastric Ulcers

Digestive concerns are very common in Thoroughbreds, with studies showing that over 90% of racing thoroughbreds have gastric ulcers. [1][2][15] Ulcers are sores or lesions that develop in the lining of the stomach in horses.

Several factors contribute to the high risk of ulcers in racehorses including stress, high-grain diets with limited forage, and the demands of training or competition.

Symptoms of ulcers in horses can vary, but may include:

  • Abdominal discomfort that may present as “girthiness
  • Tooth grinding (bruxism)
  • Difficulty in maintaining weight
  • Poor coat quality
  • Lack of appetite for grain

If your off-the-track Thoroughbred is experiencing ulcer symptoms, consult with your veterinarian to develop a treatment plan appropriate for your horse. You should also work with an equine nutritionist to implement dietary and management strategies that can help support gastric health in horses.

Topline Muscles

Building and maintaining topline muscling is another common concern for Thoroughbreds. The topline muscles include the muscles along the horse’s neck, back, loin, and croup.

These muscles support the spine and play a key role in movement and posture. For Thoroughbreds transitioning from racing to other disciplines, developing a strong, healthy topline is essential for their new athletic endeavors and overall well-being.

A poor topline can result from various factors, such as inadequate nutrition and failure to engage topline muscles properly during exercise and normal movement.

To address topline issues, ensure your horse’s dietary protein and amino acid requirements are met and introduce exercises that specifically engage topline muscles.

Keep in mind that feeding more protein and amino acids than what your horse requires will not stimulate topline muscle growth. Instead, focus on providing a well-balanced diet that:

  • Meets protein requiremen