When and why you should feed fat to your horse
Feeding fats to horses has been common practice for many years. Fats have the ability to increase energy content (think ‘calorie’) in the diet and enhance body condition whilst decreasing excitability and increasing oxidative capacity in performance horses.
What is fat?
A source of fat is anything that is oily in nature – think avocados, coconuts, seeds, olives – and you can make an OIL out of them. Common sources of fats you may find in your horse’s diet include, canola oil, rice bran oil and sunflower seeds.
At a scientific level, these fats are known as triglycerides meaning they contain three fatty acid molecules attached to one glycerol molecule. The bonds that join these molecules together determine whether the fat is considered saturated (solid) or unsaturated (liquid). Most commonly we add liquid (unsaturated) sources of fat into our horses feed.
Which fats are the good ones?
Fats comes in many different shapes and forms but at the end of the day – are they all just the same thing? This depends a little on what your goal is.
Fats differ in their chemical composition, as touched on earlier. This is what may make them a liquid or a solid, but it is also what separates omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids. Each type of fat contains a varying amount of omega fatty acids. If you goal is to increase your horse’s omega 3 fatty acid intake you may wish to choose an oil such as flaxseed or fish oil. Omega 3 fatty acids have demonstrated a role in maintaining a healthy coat and have the potential effect inflammation.
If your main goal is to increase your horse’s condition, technically any oil will be able to achieve this. If you have a fussy horse, you may wish to choose a highly palatable option such as rice bran oil.
Is fat safe to feed my horse?
Interestingly, horses do not actually have a gall bladder as humans do. This means that they do not store bile, bile is constantly added into their digestive system. This makes the horse very good at digesting fats and means they can actually handle a large portion of fat in their diet. A horse on a ‘high fat’ diet may get 20% of its calories from fat.
As with all changes within a horse’s diet fats must be increased gradually. If you increase the source of fat in your horses diet too quickly you may find they refuse their feed or if consumed, this may result in temporary diarrhoea.
Fats can help to maintain your horse’s best condition and can potentially provide additional omega 3 fatty acids. Fats also contain zero sugar and starch, unlike grain, so reduce the risk of fizzy behaviour, colic and laminitis.
As with any new feed in the horse’s diet, fats must be added in gradually. This allows the horses digestive system to adjust to the new type of feed.
Benefits of feeding oils and fats
There are several circumstances in which horses can benefit from having fats added to a balanced diet.
Vegetable oils such as rice bran oil contain approximately 2.5 times more digestible energy than an equal weight of oats and 2.3 times as much digestible energy as an equal weight of cracked corn. However, fat contains zero starch unlike these grains. This makes fat an excellent energy dense option to help maintain your horse’s best condition, whilst keeping them cool.
Mitavite® Munga® contains 12.5% fat from canola oil. This helps to provide a cool source of energy and keep the starch content of the feed low. If needed, you can incorporate an additional oil source such as Performa 3. This will further increase the fat content of the diet and also add additional omega 3 fatty acids.
Sales preparation & show horses
Creating quality coat shine for show and sales preparation is supported by providing sufficient essential fatty acids. Mitavite® Munga® and Cool Vitality® are two feeds that contain fat levels appropriate to promote healthy coat development and build condition required for show or sales preparation.
High grain diets are a potential problem for horses with Tying-Up. Unfit horses with polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM) benefit from daily exercise, removal of grain, and the addition of fat to provide the necessary calorie intake. Fit horses with recurrent exertional rhabdomyolysis (RER) can maintain high calorie intake if the amount of grain in the diet is reduced and the amount of fat in the diet is significantly increased. In both forms of tying-up, dietary fat helps to minimize symptoms.
Effects on Performance/Race Horses
The most dramatic effects of feeding high fat diets to horses have been shown in high performance horses. Horses that are adapted to high fat diets have an increased oxidative capacity and spare muscle and liver glycogen during aerobic exercise – in simple terms, the horse can use fat as their main source of energy at the beginning of work and store their ‘power’ (sugar) for when it really counts, at the end.
It appears that the initial onset of fatigue in the performance horse is the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscle – i.e., they run out of sugar as only a certain amount can be stored at one time. It has been shown that racehorses can run faster at a constant heart rate and cutting horses can stop and turn harder for a longer duration after appropriate adaptation to correctly formulated fat supplemented diets.
Additionally, supplementing fat to the diet of any equine athlete will result in metabolic advantages such as reduced feed requirements for a comparable amount of work, reduced heat production, reduced thermal load and maintenance requirements for thermal regulation and increased energy available for work.
This means a large group of performance horses including endurance horses, racehorses and many types of show horses can benefit from a high amount of dietary fat.
Feeding an appropriately balanced fat supplement, such as PERFORMA 3® Oil or MITAVITE® MUNGA® & COOL VITALITY®, along with a correctly designed training protocol, supports optimal performance in elite equine athletes.
Need help with your horse's diet?
If you’re unsure about feeding oil to your horse, then our team can help. Our Nutrition Advisors offer a free diet analysis that is simple, fast, and accessible to all levels and disciplines of horse owners. The team will review their current diet, considering all of their lifestyle and lifestage factors, and provide a diet plan that will help them look and feel their best for years to come. Visit nutrikey.com.au.