Thoroughbreds going out for a spell are the equivalent of humans going on holiday. Spelling allows horses time to refresh mentally as well as repair and rebuild physically. Nutrition plays a critical role in helping to achieve these goals. A spelling feeding program must achieve 3 major goals; first, to support the repair and recovery from any injury or disease; second to rebuild muscle; and finally to allow the horse to put on condition where needed. Structuring a spelling program to achieve these goals is looked at in detail in the following article.
Repair of injury
To correctly support the recovery from injury, spelling diets need to contain high quality protein as well as balanced amounts of minerals and vitamins like zinc and vitamin E that are crucial in tissue repair. Injured horses must also be kept in a state of positive energy balance (maintaining or gaining weight). Underfeeding injured horses and putting them in a state of weight loss reduces the body’s ability to repair damaged tissue and will prolong time to recovery. Feeding a balanced diet is important for all spelling horses, but it is especially important for horses repairing an injury.
Recovery from disease
As with injury, a balanced diet that provides high quality protein and all the essential vitamins and minerals is needed for recovery from disease. Perhaps the most common disease that spelling thoroughbreds have is gastric ulceration. If gastric ulcers are present, they must be treated with a registered ulcer treatment (your vet can advise you on the most appropriate treatment). There are also dietary and management factors that will help with recovery from ulcers with the most useful being to provide free access to lucerne hay and keep horses turned out with access to pasture where possible.
It is also common for racing thoroughbreds to have some degree of hindgut acidosis and disrupted hindgut function. A healthy hindgut is important in maintaining appetite, good hoof quality, efficient fibre digestion and vitamin production. The time a horse is spelling is an excellent time to allow the hindgut to ‘repair’ itself and to re-establish healthy populations of bacteria. Using cooked grains that are well digested in the small intestine to prevent starch overflow into the hindgut and feeding as much chaff, hay and/or pasture that the horse can eat will help achieve this goal.
Whether through injury, a loss of appetite or just being generally run down many horses lose muscle in training and need to rebuild some muscle tissue during a spell. High quality protein with good levels of the most limiting essential amino acids lysine, methionine and threonine, along with minerals like zinc and vitamins like B6 are needed to build muscle, so spelling diets need to provide all of these nutrients within a balanced diet. Soybean and other legume grains like lupins and faba beans are invaluable in the diet of spelling horses.
Of course good feed without any exercise during a spell can only go part of the way toward rebuilding muscle, so these high quality protein diets need to be continued as the horse resumes training to allow complete rebuilding of muscle tissue.
Put on weight
Many horses are turned out to spell simply to put on some weight. While putting condition on spellers is relatively simple, first you must assess if there is a reason other than being generally run down for the loss of bodyweight in training. Underlying ulcers, hindgut acidosis or other injuries severe enough to affect appetite and general well being will all lead to weight loss and each of them must be treated before weight gain will resume.
Putting weight on a horse is as simple as feeding them more dietary energy than they actually need. What they don’t use for their daily activities will be laid down as fat or used to rebuild muscle. Cereal grains are an excellent source of energy for weight gain and they are generally well accepted by thoroughbreds. You do however need to be careful to feed grains that are digestible in the small intestine. Cooked grains and oats are the best choices. Avoid uncooked barley and corn as they will only serve to further disrupt what is probably an already fragile hindgut environment.
Taking care to get the energy to protein balance right in a diet is also important as too much dietary energy and not enough good quality protein will result in fat horses without enough underlying muscle to support them when training resumes.
How much should you feed?
How much individual spellers need to be fed really depends on their unique situation. Factors that need to be taken into account include the length of time they are out for a spell, how much weight they need to gain, what access to pasture if any they will have and whether there are any underlying problems that need to be treated. Horses out for a short spell needing to gain a lot of weight may need 4 to 6 kg of grain based hard feed per day compared to horses out for a much longer spell or those not needing to gain much if any weight who may only need 1 to 2 kg of hard feed per day.
Regardless of how much you feed, you must make sure that all requirements for vitamins and minerals are met within the amount you are feeding. All spellers should have access to as much hay or pasture as they can eat. Using chaff in their hard feeds will also help to increase their fibre and energy intake, especially for finicky or lazy eaters.
Spelling spells ...
Repairing, recovering, rebuilding, regaining and refreshing. Whatever the reason you have horses out for a spell, they need to achieve a lot while they are ‘on holiday’. While veterinary and other professional care play a very important role, underpinning everything with a well balanced, high quality, easily digested and importantly, very palatable diet will give you the best chance of horses returning to training quickly and full of what they need to perform at their best.
Pryde’s EasiFeed Spelling Diets
To make feeding spellers simple while achieving stunning results, Pryde’s have devised a set of diets to suit a range of spellers.
DIET 1: For horses put out for a long term spell of at least 8 weeks that need to gain little to no weight during the period of time they are spelling
DIET 2: For horses put out for a long term spell of at least 8 weeks that need to gain a small to moderate amount of weight during the period of time they are spelling
DIET 3: For horses put out for a long term spell of at least 4 to 8 weeks that need to gain a moderate amount of weight during the period of time they are spelling
DIET 4: For horses put out for a long term spell of 4 to 8 weeks that need to gain a large amount of weight during the period of time they are spelling
Dr Nerida Richards
Equilize Horse Nutrition Pty Ltd
For full details on these diets or a custom formulation of diets for your specific circumstances, contact Pryde’s Pty Ltd on 1300 732 267, email firstname.lastname@example.org or feed selector