Of Horse

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Oils of various types have been added to horse's feeds for many years as a source of additional energy and to enhance condition and coat. Unlike traditional starchy "straight" feeds, lipids (oils) will not cause "heating" and overexcitement, nor will they upset the delicate balance of the horse's hindgut bacteria. For this reason, oils have become an increasingly popular feed additive over the last decade or so.

In a carefully balanced diet, oil can relieve the risk of starch overloading the hind gut and causing problems. Excess starch can remain undigested in the horse's gut which can lead to hind gut acidosis potentially leading to the formation of ulcers and causing colic.

Lipids are comprised of fatty acids similar to the amino acids found in proteins. Some fatty acids can be manufactured by the horse's metabolism itself and are therefore classified as "non-essential". Other "essential" fatty acids are not produced by the horse's body and must therefore be supplemented in the animal's diet. Oils are also referred to as "saturated" and "unsaturated" and are further classified as Omega 6, Omega 3 and Omega 9. It is extremely important that these components are correctly balanced for the horse to benefit fully from their addition to his diet.

Lipids commonly included as a supplementary to a horse's feed are maize, soya and sunflower oils. These are high in Omega 6 and low in Omega 3. Recent research has shown that too much Omega 6 to Omega 3 can lead to tissue inflammation and is described as "pro-inflammatory". Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids both use the same enzyme to produce bio-chemicals in the horse's body – hence the necessity for the correct balance between the two. Too much Omega 6 is pro-inflammatory while a higher level of Omega 3 is anti-inflammatory. Research by feed companies suggests that the correct ratio should be 4:1.

Omega 3 fatty acids added to the horse's diet offer many benefits especially for breeding, youngsters and performance horses.


In stud animals, Omega 3 is essential for healthy lipid membranes of sperm, ovum and endometrium. Veterinary studies have shown that the sperm of stallions whose feed was supplemented with Omega 3 survived freezing and subsequent thawing much better than those whose diet was not similarly enhanced. Mares receiving Omega 3 as a supplement in their diet exhibited much higher levels of the essential oils in their plasma.


Youngsters have high concentrations of Omega 3 fatty acids in their brain tissues. These are essential for healthy growth and development, and for behaviour and development.

Performance horses

In competition horses, muscle inflammation can occur resulting in the horse "tying up" (azoturia). This obviously can affect performance. The addition of Omega 3 to the horse's diet can help to prevent this. Essential fats are very popular in the showing world too as they have great benefits for the condition of the horse's skin giving a gorgeous healthy shine.

Many composite feeds are now supplemented with oils and are already balanced relieving owners of the problem of how much oil to feed and in combination with what.

Disclaimer: Of Horse! and sponsors do not endorse nor validate the accuracy of a blog post. Each article is the opinion of the blogger.

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  1. PonyGirl
    Interesting and timely article.
    1. autumnap
      Thank you. x

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