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  • Q:

    I have a 12-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, an ex-racehorse, that is a cribber. I currently feed him 4-5 cups of pelleted feed, 1 tablespoon of baking soda, 2 tablespoons of probiotics, and 4-5 cups of chopped alfalfa. He is in a pasture with other horses, so he has bales of hay and grass available to him at all times. He keeps his weight on this diet. He is 16.2 hands (168 cm) and weighs about 1,050 lb (480 kg), according to a weight-tape. Could diet be causing his cribbing? I want to make sure he’s getting all that he needs.

  • A:

    The reported weight of 1,050 lb seems a little low for a horse this size. Are you happy with your gelding’s current weight and condition, or would you like him to improve?

    The pelleted feed you’re currently giving your gelding is formulated to be fed at 5 lb (2.3 kg) or more per day. Because you’re using an 8-oz cup, your gelding is not receiving complete nutrition, coming up short on vitamins and minerals. For horses that maintain their weight and condition on a forage-based diet (pasture and hay), we recommend feeding a ration balancer pellet, which provides complete and balanced nutrition in a small daily amount (1-2 lb; 0.5-0.9 kg) without providing unnecessary calories.

    Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is generally added to the diet as an antacid. However, because of its rapid breakdown once it enters the stomach, baking soda is ineffective as an antacid and provides little to no buffering of gastric acid. Providing a natural dietary antacid, like alfalfa, is a great way to provide additional digestive support along with targeted supplementation of a digestive product such as RiteTrac.

    RiteTrac is a proprietary blend of ingredients designed to support total digestive tract health. Targeted to benefit the stomach and the hindgut of the horse, RiteTrac works in two distinct ways. First with its combination of fast-acting antacids and coating agents, RiteTrac quickly neutralizes excess gastric acid, protecting the stomach lining and restoring the normal gastric environment. Second, RiteTrac contains EquiShure, a time-released hindgut buffer designed to act in the cecum and colon by maintaining optimal pH, thereby reducing the risk of hindgut acidosis.

    Regarding cribbing, the cause of this vice is still largely unknown, although it is fairly common among racehorses. Cribbing is thought to be associated with digestive discomfort, at least in part, and diet has been implicated in cribbing behavior.

    Diets and feeds high in nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC), notably starch and sugar, can exacerbate digestive issues, such as gastric ulcers, and some horses may increase their cribbing behavior after eating a concentrated feed. The ingredients of your current feed, specifically the first two ingredients—ground oats and corn—suggest that this feed will have a significant starch content. Because your gelding is not eating much of the pelleted feed, this is likely not the driving force behind his cribbing behavior. Replacing the feed with a ration balancer will reduce the NSC content of his diet and offer complete nutrition.

    Changes in feeds should be made gradually over 7-10 days by reducing the amount offered of the current feed and increasing the amount given of the new feed.

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