Prepping Thoroughbred Yearlings for the Sales

Breeding horses is all about getting a return on your investment and that involves hard work and attention to detail, encompassing good balanced nutritional programmes and sensible exercise regimes alongside overall health and general management. 
Early Days

Sales preparation doesn’t start eight weeks before the intended sale, it starts right back at conception and attention to correct nutrition throughout the foal to yearling stages should result in a well grown youngster with sufficient muscle and condition to progress smoothly into sales preparation.  At 12 - 15 months of age the typical yearling should have achieved 90% of its mature height, 95% of its bone length and 75% of its adult weight; growth rates may now be slower (0.45 - 0.5kg per day) but it is still an important phase in the young athletic life. 
Forage Basis

As access to pasture is reduced, the yearling should receive increased amounts of hay or haylage in order to maintain gut health and function, relieve boredom and prevent stereotypical behaviour, like cribbing and windsucking.  Ideally forage intake should be equivalent to 1% of bodyweight and will contribute to the youngster’s energy intake by providing fermentable fibre and non-heating calories. 
The more digestible the forage, the lower the risk of “hay belly” and, if the nutritional quality of the forage is in question, an alfalfa chaff like Alfalfa Plus Oil or Alfalfa Blend can be fed to help raise the overall protein and fibre content of the diet.  Knowing the nutritional content of your forage is essential if you want to achieve an overall balanced diet and most reputable feed manufacturers provide a forage analysis service to help you achieve this.
Little and Often

All changes to diet and exercise regimes should be made gradually to allow the horse’s system to adapt, with the feed programme ideally being reviewed every two weeks as the work intensity increases.  The digestive capacity of the small intestine is limited so large concentrate meals increase the risk of carbohydrate reaching the hindgut and causing digestive upsets. 
Small, frequent, digestible meals are therefore key to reducing excessive glycaemic response and avoiding starch overload.  High carbohydrate (starch) meals is thought to influence the hormonal responses of the youngster to their meal and affect the conversion of cartilage to bone so, when feed volumes increase, upping the number of meals per day from two to three, or even four, can reap rewards.
Essential Ingredients

A youngster’s diet must supply the essential quality protein and micronutrients, including chelated minerals for enhanced uptake and utilisation, to support growth whilst providing sufficient calories to promote or maintain sales ring condition.  Feeding high volumes of concentrate feed may satisfy calorie needs but can reduce the appetite for forage and increase risks of digestive upsets, with traditional oat-based feeds often exacerbating excitable temperaments too. 
Specifically formulated sales prep feeds, like Prep Mix and Prep-Ease, are now available and supply a non-heating balanced diet, designed to be fed typically at rates of 4 - 6kg (8 - 12lbs) per day.  These products aim to provide an all-in-one feeding solution that not only provides a scientific balance of nutrients for the growing youngster but also provide slow release calories, often from fibre and oil, to encourage any required weight gain and a glossy coat.
Well Oiled

When more calories are required, oil can be added to the existing diet as, not only does oil provide 2 ½ times more calories per kilogram than carbohydrates, it is a slow release, non-heating ingredient.  300- 500 ml/day would be required to promote weight gain but this can present possible palatability problems and requires additional antioxidant support in order for the body to utilise the oil efficiently. 
Specialised high oil supplements, like Outshine high oil supplement, are an excellent alternative and should provide a balance of Omega 3 and 6 oils from linseed and soya and contain the necessary vitamins and minerals for efficient utilisation of the oil.  Low inclusion rates of ¼ - ½ kg per day can enhance hair coat whereas ½ - 1 kg per day will contribute significant calorie levels to the overall diet without significantly increasing the overall volume of hard feed. 
Balancing Act

Correctly balanced diets can help remove the guesswork from feeding and avoid costly and unnecessary supplements.  The type of diet required for sales preparation will be influenced by size, age and individual metabolic variation as well as the forage quality and quantity that will be available.  Some horses may continue to do well on a mainly forage diet with a stud balancer for the first few weeks of preparation whereas others will need additional calories whilst still out at pasture.  Here we look at the two main types of youngster we tend to be faced with and outline the different nutritional approaches:
Compact, heavy-muscled sprinting types:

  • Generally require fewer calories to hold weight and top line.
  • Reduce compound feed quantities and replace all, or a proportion, with specially formulated stud balancer, plus alfalfa chaff and a little oil supplement for coat shine.  This ensures protein, vitamin and mineral levels are maintained whilst controlling calories.

  • Distinguish between fat horses and “heavy-middled” horses.  Fat horses need a reduction in calories but losing top line off a heavy-middled horse could create the appearance of a pot belly.  Provide soft leafy digestible forage to reduce any pot bellied appearance and take the eye to the top line and general muscle definition.

  • Laid back individuals may benefit from having a combination of instant energy from oats or oat-based stud feeds balanced against the non-heating slower release oil and fibre based feeds.

Larger, rangy distance-bred horses:

  • Often gawky, under developed types needing muscle and weight to fill their frame.
  • Consider specifically formulated stud/prep feeds combining fibres, oils and carbohydrates to produce a calorie dense diet.  Feed at recommended levels in 3 to 4 meals with ad lib digestible forage.

  • Consider top dressing with a high oil, calorie dense supplement at ¼ - 1kg day.  This helps to fill horses out across the back and loins without aggravating temperament through high starch diets, creating a better overall appearance. 

  • Backward underdeveloped yearlings should not be pushed with high energy rations as this could be a potential nutritional disaster leading to joint problems in some cases.  Start these horses on their sales prep diets sooner and work up gradually.

Clearly each horse is an individual and should be fed as such and, with the range of products now available, it should be easier than ever to achieve the correct nutritional balance to support growth whilst achieving the head-turning physique required for the sales ring.  We may not be able to alter the genetic make up of each individual but with good feeding practices, alongside a well managed exercise regime we can certainly improve the chances of achieving the best price for each individual horse.