Maintaining the Retired Dressage Thoroughbred

When I retired Pig he was a chunk of a horse.
Pig-a-potomus | July 2017
With a much reduced workload, he was rapidly gaining weight on his ridiculously small previous diet (2 lbs Purina Strategy and 1lb Enrich ration balancer). When he moved to the therapy place in August, his workload diminished even further. They cut him down to just the ration balancer.

By October he was beginning to resemble a broodmare...
Broodmare status | October 9, 2017
In November, he moved from the therapy place to the current barn. Here, field board horses are not fed by the barn staff. He would only get fed (ration balancer) when I showed up. To start this was only about 3 days a week.

I watched him carefully the first month to ensure his weight wasn't dropping with this reduced feeding schedule. He seemed to be keeping up just fine. In fact, he still looked a bit fat to me.
Santa-Pig | December 17, 2017
The end of December and January saw me missing a lot of barn visits, with holiday trips and moving out of my house. I was trying to feed Pig 3x a week, but trying to find him in his huge field in the dark and get to Bast's barn was proving difficult. His feeding schedule fell to 1-2x a week.

By February, I realized I would need to make a bigger effort to get out there 3x a week again. While he looked okay most of the time...
Fluffy-Pig | February 18, 2018
On occasion he showed a bit too much rib for my liking...
Also February 18, 2018
Part of the issue was his completely missing topline. I'd only ridden him a handful of times since he had moved to the new barn. (In November, he ended up with a tick borne fever, so I had given him all of Dec off to recover.) The muscle was literally wasting away from the top of his haunches and back. On one day I'd think he needed to gain some weight. On the next he looked just fine.
Looking fine | March 11, 2018
Right around this time, things started to go wrong. The weather warmed up considerably, and new shoots of grass started trying to poke out. The horses in the pasture started ignoring their hay, instead roaming the vast field for each tiny speck of fresh green they could find.
Grass IS always greener... | March 27, 2018
Pig started looking very forward to his grain ration, even coming to me in the field when called, for the first time in his whole life.
You Rang? | March 9, 2018
Again, he wasn't looking like an abuse case, but I was keeping a careful eye on him. The ongoing frantic search for grass and overheating under his blankets seemed to be doing a lot of damage to his weight.
Drama-Pig | April 9, 2018
Mid April I decided to add in more grain. I picked up a bag of Strategy and started weening him back onto it. As the grass had stopped popping out with the late March cold snaps, he seemed to really need the extra calories.

Whenever I could, I grazed him on the one hill on the farm that was sprouting grass.
GREEN! (But only here...) | April 8 2018
While the grain helped his weight to stabilize, I felt he was very slow to put more on. I was reluctant to add too big of a grain meal, but did increase a bit more. Thoroughbreds can look so ribby just because of the way they are built, especially Pig. But with his lack of muscle, I wanted more weight on him.
Waiting for dinner | April 27, 2018
The lack of topline really seemed to be the biggest issue. Once I felt I had his weight stabilized and the grass started coming in for real, I decided it was time to put him back to gentle work and start building up some muscle again.
One of these butts is not like the other ones | May 12, 2018
Of course, we've been taking things really slow to help build him up without stressing his system and causing weight loss. Mostly he started by ponying Bast around the property. Hauling a young horse up and down hills seems to be agreeing with him (as does the grass).
Ugh, the lack of muscle makes me cry | May 12, 2018
We've finally gotten to the point where I think he's ready (and he seems to agree) for more strenuous work. I am doing some light dressage schools with him, and kicked up some hill repeats and canter sets to built some muscle behind.

Hopefully all the work brings back a topline and we can rebuild that sexy body he had at the start of the year.
Looking good! | May 7, 2018
This winter was certainly eye opening for me. I was amazed at how well he did on limited grain throughout the winter, but next year will be sure to start him on a larger grain ration at the end of January to avoid the spring slump. He's not the only horse in the area that went through this rollercoaster, but I would prefer to avoid it next year. That said, I'd like to keep him from getting as fat as he was last summer! His old arthritic legs could use a break!

Anyone else struggle with their horses this spring? Is your horse's weight difficult to evaluate from moment to moment like Pigs?


  1. Honestly I think spring is the hardest time for many horses, more so than winter alone. With the smell of fresh grass in the air none of the horses want their hay any more. All the horses in Charlie’s field (himself included) were literally climbing the fences trying to get to grass. They all looked mostly fine over the winter but it was definitely the transition period before grass where they all looked the worst. Glad pig is looking better now !

    1. Ugh. Can we just skip early spring completely?

  2. Rollercoaster, indeed! Early spring is the hardest on them it seems. Definitely agree on the moment by moment difficulties for my guys, too, Stan especially. That's the worst part, I think, the inner war with myself about "is he? isn't he? is he? do I? don't I? should I? ehhhh?!" I'm just glad we're past the trickiest time of year for a good while. Your idea of upping grain in January sounds like a damn good plan though.

    1. Stan is a lot like Pig in some ways. Heavier boned, narrow necked, and a "well spring" ribcage. 😉 Makes it hard to tell when they're actually losing substantial body fat!

  3. We have some retired horses (in their 30s) on our property as well, and the exact same thing happened this year. I was kind of freaking out, but in the midwest we had some crazy spring weather, and they looked bad for awhile. But the same story happened to us. With the grass finally coming in and some added grain rations they're both looking so much better! To getting ahead for next year :) Good luck!

    1. Oh yes Midwest winters and springs were much harder on them! I still kind of miss them, though...

  4. Oh my god- I can totally relate to this. Once the grass comes in Irish becomes obsessed and not only ignores the hay but his grain ration as well. I have beccome resigned to the weight loss (sort of). Now he's on the grass and looking better so I can give a sigh of relief.

    1. Yes!! It was a struggle to get Pig to eat his grain ration! I'm lucky because hay is his favorite food ever, so he would go back to it eventually. (Seriously, he'll leave grain for hay most days)

  5. Yep, my horse has gone on hay strike as well and there's really not enough grass in his field to make up for it. We upped his grain last month, but he's still too ribby and narrow looking for my liking. I just ordered my fave Tri-Amino to try to bulk him up a bit and I'm trying Amplify for the first time on several people's recommendations. The Cool Calories just isn't cutting it for him anymore if he won't eat his dang forage!

    1. Forage is so damn key for these guys! The hay at my old barn was such low quality the horses always lost weight on it. Thankfully this place has better stuff, but still.

      Every time Bast looks ribby, I find myself hoping he's growing height! 😂

  6. Yay Pig! I was so excited to see your posts about riding him again. Having Rico going for a while when TC was in rehab/being an ass coming back from rehab was really refreshing. I haven't had any issues with spring grass since TC is just in a paddock, but I am struggling to figure out whether I want him on 5 flakes + a small amount of grain or 4 flakes + more grain as he comes back into full work. First world horse problems lol.

    1. Omg it's SO FUN to ride a trained horse, even though we aren't really doing things.

  7. I feel like many Thoroughbreds fluctuate and SHOW it more than others. Like you said, from one angle they look fine and then another they look ribby! I went through that with Miles a lot.

  8. Hampton is the same way. Drops weight at the end of winter every year. Its like they say "Ok I'm sick of eating hay, I'll just nibble on what every little grass there is." He did ok this year thanks to beet pulp, but next year I may have to try something else too. He just was ... rangy. Not an abuse case, like you said, but just a little weedy looking lol

  9. Friend's 5 yr old mare has been having increased grain to keep eight on. Which means she went from super chill baby to "OMG wind is gonna kill me" at times. Hoping she will level out now that its nearly summer. My mare needed one summer of grain and then stayed fat on air after apparently. Pig looks like happy to be working a bit.

  10. Yup - my Dad's little TB mare had a rough spring. 6 flakes per day, some alfalfa, 2 scoops of rice bran/mineral supplements, and although I can still see ribs at certain angles, she is shining like a copper penny - so I know those last 20-30 lbs are coming :)

  11. Tristan has never gone on strike in favor of grass - the day he doesn't devour anything you put in front of him I will also look for the horsemen of the Apocalypse - but his weight management also got significantly trickier as he aged. He went from being a fairly straightforward easy keeper who was tricky to fit up to a really easy keeper with some weird quirks. He's even harder to fit up now and when he gets any time off all his fat melts straight to his hay belly. It's super attractive and really frustrating because my schedule means that doing 4-5 days of riding a week consistently is just unrealistic. I can manage for a couple of weeks and then it falls apart. So he swings wildly from looking aged-but-good to homeless-and-abused constantly. Like I'm sure he's not experiencing significant changes that would cause him systemic distress but oh boy does he start to *look* seedy almost immediately.

  12. I go through this with Copper a lot, though apparently most of his issues holding weight in previous years were because of the Lyme disease, I've yet to find the perfect plan to keep him looking nice. That topline wasting kills my soul too because now that he's navicular/not 100% sound, I can't really put it back on. :/ Horses...


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