When it comes to companion animal nutrition, the Purina brand is one of the strongest. Their product lineup includes several popular brands of horse feed, including Omolene, Race Ready and Strategy.
Just like “Little Mikey” in the Life Cereal campaign from the 1970s (He likes it! Hey, Mikey!), Purina is concerned with both the taste and nutrition of its animal products. The only way to test that is with professional taste testers.
When it comes to its horse feed, those taste testers are a herd of horses at the Purina Animal Nutrition Center.
“The horses are utilized for feed research and development in the areas of palatability, growth and development and exercise physiology,” said Mike Jerina, manager of equine research at Purina Animal Nutrition.
Most of the horses in the 76-head Purina herd are Quarter Horses, but they do have several off-track Thoroughbreds. One of the team's favorites is Hollywood Extra, who was from an aftercare agency at the end of his racing career.
“Hollywood got his start as an extra in the movie War Horse, and then he had a relatively short racing career,” said Mike, who holds a Bachelor's Degree in Animal Science from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and a Master's of Business Administration from the University of Missouri–Saint Louis.
Bred in Oklahoma, Hollywood's racing career was uneventful at best. His first start came as a 3-year-old in a Remington Park maiden special weight, but the gelding broke badly and was bumped, losing his rider in the process. After several more unsuccessful attempts at that level, he was dropped down maiden claimers at Will Rogers Downs, where he fared no better, finishing 6th for a $15,000 tag and then 9th in his final start for a $7,500 claiming price.
Mike says that since arriving at Purina, Hollywood has been a star, eager to work and personable to be around.
“Hollywood's willingness to adapt to new environments is outstanding. The degree of success one can experience with an off-track Thoroughbred, or any horse previously owned, largely depends on how that horse has been trained and treated by his previous owner,” he said. “Our experience [with Hollywood and others] has been very good. It's obvious the people had the horse's best interest at stake.”
Horses in the Purina herd are given feeds and variations of feeds the company is hoping to bring to market. Mike and his team collect data from the horses to tell them not only if they are enjoying the food but also what nutrients, minerals, and energy they get from it.
“Feeding horses on the farm is complex because we have to practice with such precision in terms of data collection,” Mike said. “In the equine unit, we have x-ray and ultrasound machines, indirect calorimetry machines to measure caloric output during exercise, and EKG monitors to measure heart rate. It's crazy the amount of testing we do before a product is offered to the public, but the time and effort pays off. Our products are successful in the marketplace because they work.”
Mike says the true customer for Purina is the horse. The herd tries out new diets and concentrated feeds to see if they like eating them.
“If our horses don't like it or the diet doesn't perform as designed, it never makes it to market,” said Mike. “If we can create happy, healthy horses that can perform to their maximum potential through their diets, then we have been successful.”
Name: Hollywood Extra (a.k.a. “Hollywood”)
Born: February 18, 2011
Sire: Indy Thunder
Sale History: none
Race Record: 5-0-0-0
Race Earnings: $415
Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of Thoroughbred racing, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She holds board affiliations with the Make a Wish Foundation, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the Retired Racehorse Project, among others, and she is the go-to food source for two dogs and one off-track Thoroughbred.
Email Jen your story ideas at [email protected] or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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