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Rehabilitating Off the Track Thoroughbreds: 5 Practical Tips


Off the track thoroughbreds (OTTBs) can make incredible equine partners with proper rehabilitation.  


Here are 5 practical ways to help rehabilitate your OTTB.



 


An OTTB is always going to be a special case. Incidence of gut ulceration, fracture, chronic joint inflammation and behavioural dysfunction like cribbing, windsucking, weaving etc. are more likely. While many OTTBs go on to have productive athletic lives beyond racing, it requires diligence and patience. While they are frequently cheap to purchase or even free, they often require significant investment in order to keep them sound. 


Even if they go on to be capable performance horses, their career at a high-level is very rarely tenable beyond their mid-teens as their extended exertion catches up to them (just like human athletes at mid-life). 


It's not just stress from competing and associated husbandry at a young age. Wild populations don't grow to the average height of a thoroughbred. European wild horses are generally between 12 and 13.3hh. American mustangs and Australian brumbies rarely exceed 15hh. Structurally, there will be cumulative physiological strain on horses that exceed this height.  


Wild horses do not tend to gallop at maximum speed for any extended length of time, and not every day (nor do they jump every day, or spin, or roll-back, or all the other things we routinely ask performance horses to do).


The good news is that while OTTBs face many health and behavioural issues, these are relatively predictable, which means you can anticipate them, and you can address them all simultaneously.


Over 20 years we've rehabbed or helped countless owners rehab OTTBs. These are the things that work.


1. Gut Health


The majority of OTTBs have stomach ulcers. Managing this is ongoing. While omeprazole can be useful in the short-term, it's not a long-term solution. There are many products you may already have in your pantry that can help relieve stomach ulcers. Here is more info about that. Frequently behavioural issues will subside along with the ulcers. 


We have a number of products that help support gut health. You can buy them in a bundle. They are low inclusion (10g per day) and palatable, making them a cost-effective and simple method of managing gut health. 





2. Hoof Health


Thoroughbreds notoriously have flat feet, underrun heels, flakey, brittle, and thin hoof walls. The ideal is to transition to barefoot giving hooves an opportunity to repair. If you have a horse that is sound barefoot in its own environment, you can then choose to shoe when you feel they need it on more challenging surfaces. It is healthier, not to mention significantly cheaper for your horse to be barefoot most of the time if you can manage it.


Find a hoof professional in your area with experience in OTTBs who can help you make that transition. There are many boot options these days to support your progress, or use as an alternative to shoeing. Supporting your horse's hoof growth through adequate nutrition is the key to success. 


Biotin is proven to improve hoof health. You can read more about that here.


Before and after biotin supplementation.








3. Implement a Proper Exercise Regimen


Fractures, windgalls and bowed tendons are typical for OTTBs.


A study from 2020 found that:



 Introducing any exercise regime needs to be deliberate and gradual to avoid exacerbating existing or recurring inflammation. If you work with an equine osteopath, masseuse or chiropractor they should be able to isolate musculoskeletal weaknesses and give you specific exercises/stretches that will improve that.


We also have a joint supplement that helps reduce inflammation. It contains turmeric, MSM, glucosamine and chia seeds. It's a very affordable option for supporting joint health. 


We also have boots with inserts you can freeze for icing fetlock joints.







4. Provide Adequate Turnout and Social Interaction


Social interaction with other horses is essential for all horses' mental well-being. Lack of it can end up with some strange symptoms. Most racehorses in training are housed alone, and so it's important to take care when integrating your horse with a new herd. 24/7 grazing helps reduce ulcers as the gut is not empty. Turnout keeps your horse moving and reduces stocking-up. Companionship also tends to minimise weaving, cribbing and other symptoms of anxiety. 


5. Monitor Body Condition and Adjust Nutrition


OTTBs are also notoriously 'hard doers'. Most will require additional feeding beyond pasture alone. Many weight-gaining feeds are high GI, which can introduce new problems. Bran is frequently included in these feeds. Bran is high in phosphorous which can contribute to bone density loss. It's important to support bone health given the high incidence of fractures, arthritis and other osteo conditions. 


Rather than specialist 'weight gain' feeds, we use copra meal which is high in fat, but low GI, and can help maintain condition when included in a balanced diet. Hay is also fantastic for OTTBs.



Regularly assess your OTTB's body condition score and adjust your nutrition accordingly. A well-balanced diet, supplemented with quality equine minerals can aid in weight gain, muscle development, and overall health.


Experience the Sound Advice Difference


At Sound Advice, we offer a range of equine nutrition solutions designed to support your horse's health and longevity. We are here to help so please reach out. While all of the challenges of rehabilitation can seem overwhelming, thoroughbreds are extremely versatile, athletic and intelligent animals. It is hugely satisfying to facilitate their path to happy, calm, productive lives beyond racing.


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