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Conditioning for the yearling sales

Preparing a yearling for sale is an important event in the stud calendar for both Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds and involves a carefully tailored balance between the correct nutrition, conditioning, growth and fitness.

Properly prepared yearlings will be fit, sound and well-grown, with shiny coats and little body fat. When preparing a yearling for sale it is important to understand the nutrient requirements of the horse and the critical balance between feed intake and exercise as they impact on condition and soundness.

Forage should always be the first consideration in any horse’s diet and some amount of pasture, along with a high-quality/high-energy hay, is important for yearlings. Higher energy hays such as lucerne and clover blends will contribute to energy requirements and work to decrease the amount of starch in the yearling’s diet.

Also, using a high-quality, early-cut hay minimises the appearance of gut-fill, which is often associated with a mature hay containing high amounts of lignin. Including additional fibre sources through chaff, ensiled forages and super fibres such as beet pulp and soy hulls is often highly beneficial for reducing the amount of hard feed or grain the horse requires. In turn, this can reduce the symptoms of starch overload including diarrhoea, colic, laminitis and behavioural problems.

Yearlings do best on a 14–17 percent protein ration, balanced for macro and micro-minerals as well as fat and water-soluble vitamins. The feeding rate of hard feeds for yearlings is extremely variable depending on: choice of feed, growth history, skeletal size, individual metabolism, actual age, quantity and quality of forage. It is essential that all yearlings are fed as individuals, paying careful attention to body weight, weekly weight gain and body condition score – with feed intake adjusted appropriately. Selecting a muesli-style textured hard feed is often beneficial as it is highly palatable and encourages consistent intake through stressful times of increased workload, travel to sales complexes and new surroundings.

To avoid hindgut disturbances and digestive conditions in yearlings it is also important to consider feeds that contain grains that have been processed to enhance digestion. Heat-processed feeds such as pelleted products or feeds containing steam-flaked grains ensure most of the digestion takes place in the small intestine, thus reducing the risk of unprocessed starch entering the hindgut and causing acidosis. McMillan Rapid Gain, NRM Assett or NRM Prepare are great options of well-balanced, textured feeds containing steam-flaked grains that are ideal for sales preparation.

While there is an overwhelming array of supplements that claim to enhance coat quality and condition, including a fat source is always one of the best ways to achieve that sale-ring shine. Suitable fat sources include vegetable oils, sunflower seeds or a stabilised rice bran such as KER Equi-Jewel. Equi-Jewel is a high-fat, low-starch conditioning supplement that is highly beneficial for improving topline and coat quality.

For more information and diet advice on preparing a yearling for sale, contact a reputable equine nutritionist.

Article supplied by Luisa Wood, Equine Nutritionist.