Look after your Yearling’s digestive tract and get the best results this year

Look after your Yearling’s digestive tract and get the best results this year

Look after your Yearling’s digestive tract and get the best results this year

Nikita Stowers MSc (Nutrition) BSc (Animal Science) BBS

Equine Nutritionist – Veterinary and Nutritional Integration LTD


With the annual yearling sales just around the corner in NZ and Australia it is a great time to review the diets of your young growing horses and make sure we achieve optimal growth and development and get the best result in the sales ring.  Ensuring that we look after our yearlings digestive system and meet their requirements throughout this period is crucial.

The more we learn about our horses gut health the more we know we need to feed them accordingly to get the best results and our for our young budding racehorses this is no exception.  We can follow some simple strategies to get our yearlings looking and feeling their best before they head off on their new exciting careers.

While they are still at home on the stud we have a great opportunity to ensure we are meeting all of their growth and development needs.  Some research we carried out in NZ in 2009 revealed that Weanlings and Yearlings received approximately 80% of their Energy requirements and over half of their intake requirements from concentrate feed alone at 5 and 12 months old (Stowers et al., 2009).  One of the problems with feeding high levels of grain and starch based concentrate feeds is that the opportunity for the horse to meet its fibre requirement is really limited.

Horses have a reasonably fixed intake per day which is likely to be between 2-3% of their bodyweight for young growing horses.  If they have met the majority of this requirement from concentrate feeds they are unlikely to be getting enough fibre in their diet which will impair their gastrointestinal health and subsequent growth.  It is recommended that horses receive at least 1.5-2% of their diet in fibre each day.

The other problem is that high starch, grain-based, concentrate feeds may also lead to rapid growth rates which are also associated with an increased incidence of Developmental orthopaedic disease (DOD).

If we turn this feeding scenario around and try and build our weanling and yearling diets on fibre based, low starch feeds we are not only utilising the quality pasture on our properties but also helping our growing horses developing digestive tracts, setting them up for their new careers.  After all they are young athletes and deserve the best nutrition. 

One of the best and easiest way to do this is to analyse our pasture on farm during the yearling preparation and then building our growing horses diets from there to make sure they get exactly what they need.  Vitamins and mineral nutrition and the getting the balance right of certain nutrients is more important for the growing horse than any other class of horse. 

We recently tested pasture on a large thoroughbred stud farm in NZ and found that although it was meeting most requirements, the Calcium to Phosphorous ratio in the pasture was inverted sitting at around 0.8:1. The acceptable range is likely anywhere between 1:1 to 6:1 (Calcium: Phosphorous) however the ideal ratio for a young growing horse is approximately 2:1 and so knowing this information going into a yearling preparation means we can ensure we supplement our yearlings according to their requirements on our own farms. 

We may need to top the diet up in these situations with a quality vitamin and mineral supplement like Digestive VM.

The other important thing to cover off before and during our yearling preparation is the Stress that our young, growing horses are likely to be going through, not only during their preparation but also when they are transported to the sales complex for parading and sale.  The effect of stress on the horses digestive system is huge, especially as they are naturally a flight animal and some of the conditions they will be exposed to can be daunting to say the least.  To do the best for our yearlings we should ensure they always have access to fibre but we can also give them additional gut support to optimise their digestive health.  This is especially important if there are times when they may not eat for periods of time and we might require some additional support. 

Poseidon’s Digestive RP is a complete fore and hindgut digestive supplement for horses. It is designed to support your horse's digestive and immune systems, this equine gut health supplement provides buffering for the stomach and hindgut, the added benefit of enzymes to help digest the starch based concentrates in your Yearling’s diet and amino acids and antioxidants.

Whilst providing gut support with a product like Digestive RP is a great idea for day to day support, when your Yearling’s are making their way to the Sales complex and are staying there for an extended period, they may also go off their feed. It is crucial they keep eating to support their gut health and minimise stress on their digestive system.

Historically, many studs have turned to strategic use of Omeprazole based products for this stressful period, to minimise the risk of gastric ulceration. 

Using Omeprazole in horses also reduces the absorption of Calcium so for growing horses where Calcium is so important for their growth and skeletal development, we want to avoid long term use of Omeprazole to avoid the possible negative effects.

Whilst there may still be a role for short term use of these medications we may also be able to prevent these decreases in appetite and reduce the risk of gastric ulceration naturally using Stress Paste. This product has a unique protective effect for the fore and hindgut and provides Magnesium for normal nerve function, Amino acids for gut wall health, a powerful prebiotic for gut microbiome support, Betaine for hydration, B vitamins for muscle and appetite, Pectin to help protect the stomach and Vitamins C & E for antioxidant protection.