All About Feed Oils
Feeding Seeds/Oils for Conditioning & Coat Enhancement
The point to understand is that the ratio of Omega 3’s to Omega 6’s in his diet is critical for your horse’s long term health. There should always be more Omega 3’s because Omega 6’s are known to be INflammatory, whilst Omega 3’s are ANTI-inflammatory.
For instance black sunflower seeds, which are a source of protein, magnesium and fat, but unfortunately the fat is predominantly Omega 6’s. To counteract this, for every 1 cup of sunflower seeds added to your horses feed, you would need to add 2 cups of ground flaxseed.
The ratio of Omega 3’s to 6’s is best in fresh green grass, which means therefore Omega 3’s in some form or other, need to be added to feed when horses are completely off the grass for whatever reason because hay has virtually no Omega 3 content.
One of the best sources of Omega 3’s is Flaxseed oil. Ground flaxseed, (linseed) which is another source of protein and fibre, contains residual amounts of the oil, the meal is what is left after the oil has been extracted.
ALL vegetable oils are higher in Omega 6’s than Omega 3’s – including rice bran oil (RBO), and therefore need to be balanced up especially if your horse is prone to any of the conditions ending in ‘itis’ which means ‘inflammation’. (Laminitis, Arthritis, Uveitis, Myositis (inflammation of the muscles – very common in Grass Affected horses), Dermatitis, Colitis (inflammation of the digestive tract) and more)
What about feeding Fish Oil to horses?
Even though horses would never normally eat fish, fish oil, as in Cod Liver Oil for instance, is rich in what are known as long-chain, omega-3 fatty acids called EPA and DHA. These acids form beneficial hormones called eicosanoids that reduce inflammation and help your horse’s immune system.
Many people feed fish oil to horses without problems, however fish oil does not contain the essential fatty acid Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) which the horse cannot manufacture on his own and therefore needs to be supplied in the diet. ALA is found in Flaxseed and Chia Seeds.
While there are benefits of feeding fish oil for the other Omega 3 fatty acids, it is completely lacks ALA. This is why some companies blend several oil sources together to get the ideal mix.
Commercial feeds usually contain soybean or corn oils, which are very high in inflammatory omega 6s. It is not that Omega 6’s are ‘bad’, they are just as necessary as Omega 3’s, you just need to ensure the ratio between the two is correct.
The moral of the story is, the less fresh green grass your horse consumes, the more you will need to be conscious of adding fatty acids to your horses diet.
What do these essential fatty acids do?
help with cellular development and the formation of healthy cell membranes
assist in the development and function of the brain and nervous system
help regulate proper thyroid and adrenal activity
play a role in thinning the blood
have anti-inflammatory qualities that can relieve symptoms of both arthritis and other autoimmune system diseases
regulate blood pressure, immune responses and liver function
A diet low in these fatty acids can also result in skin problems, including eczema, dandruff, and a poor hair-coat
Feeding fats or oils to horses has been controversial because of the fact that horses don’t have a gall bladder like we do, to produce bile to emulsify (break down) fats in the digestive tract. Instead the horse’s liver takes over the role and produces plenty of bile when necessary to break down and metabolise fats as they pass through the small intestine.
So yes it is OK to feed oils to horses but as usual when you introduce oil to your horse’s feed do it slowly (over 10-14 days)
The rule of thumb is to not feed more than a cup of oil per feed and no more than 2 cups per day.
Energy-wise 1 cup of oil is the same as over a kg of oats so don’t get too carried away unless your horse is doing at least moderate work most days.
Adding oil to your horse’s feed will:
Provide ‘cool’ energy (it is a useful substitute for grain)
Contribute to a shiny coat
Apart from the benefits of fatty acids, oil is very beneficial because it will help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), and make sex hormones.
Does grass supply any fatty acids?
The answer is yes it does but the fatty acid concentration in grass varies throughout the season, being higher in young grass than older grass.
Those of us feeding more mature grass and hay to our horses are doing well to add oil to our horses daily feed.
25 year old Merlot might be a retired brood mare, grazing what some might call 'rubbish' grass but as you see here, with the right minerals and oils her coat glows and she is in excellent health.