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How healthy is your Shiny Horse?

By Blue Chip Feed

Horses can benefit from the inclusion of fats and oils in their diet fed alongside good quality fibre sources, especially when it comes to improving condition and the all-desirable coat shine. Fats have twice as many calories as carbohydrates making them very calorie-dense; for example one cup of oil provides the same amount of energy as 700g of oats. Fats and oils are also considered slow release energy sources which mean they gradually release energy into the horse’s blood stream helping to reduce the risk of hyperactive behaviour.

When it comes to deciding which type of fat/oil you should be feeding your horse, it is important to remember that whilst they all contain the same amount of energy, it is their ratio of specific essential fatty acids – Omega 3, known as alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and Omega 6 known as linoleic acid (LA) – which separates them. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids play a vital role within the equine diet as the horse’s body can’t produce them for itself, hence the need for them to be added to the diet. Providing the correct balance of these essential fatty acids (EFAs) is paramount to optimal digestive health and with so many feeds and fat/oil supplements on the market it’s important to make an informed choice.  Most commercially prepared horse feeds have an inverted ratio of these two fatty acids and contain high levels of Omega 6 (LA) found in cereal grains, soybean meal, rice bran and corn or vegetable oils which are added to boost the fat concentration.

NATURAL SUPPLIES OF OMEGA 3 & 6

The horse’s natural supply of Omega 3 and 6 comes from fresh grass , which although low in total fat (2-4%) a significant proportion of that fat (39-56%) is ALA compared to LA, with a 4:1 ratio of ALA to linoleic acid.  Once grass is cut and dried to producer hay however, the naturally occurring unsaturated fatty acids are destroyed by oxygen. If hay is the main forage source for your horse, it is essential to add a fat source that offers more omega 3s than omega 6s.

ANTI-INFLAMMATORY VERSUS PRO-INFLAMMATORY

An imbalance of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids or an inadequate amount of Omega 3 can have huge repercussions on your horse’s health.

Omega-3 is a natural anti-inflammatory helping to reduce prostaglandins responsible for pain and inflammation in the horse’s body.  Omega 3 oils have been shown to have an important role in the structure and formation of the wall of red blood cells, which is essential for competition and performance horses where oxygen transportation can be improved by the structure of the red blood cells. Deficiencies in Omega 3 can lead to hoof problems, allergic skin conditions and can even affect your horse’s temperament.

Omega 6 is a natural pro-inflammatory and is also very important to the equine diet assisting in maintaining a healthy immune system, however too much Omega 6 can have adverse implications on your horse’s health such as inflammation in joints and muscles and even tissue damage from oxidative stress caused by inflammation. The aging joints of older horses are more painful when omega 6 fatty acid is fed in large amounts.

SUPPLEMENTAL OILS/FATS

Omega-3 and Omega-6 work synergistically within the horse’s body and it is important to select oils which contain both of these essential fatty acids in the correct ratio but with a leaning toward more Omega 3 –in keeping with the horse’s natural diet.

If you are considering adding oil to your horse’s diet then linseed/flaxseed oil and meal is the best choice.  Linseed is one of the richest plant based sources of Omega-3 being almost 60% pure Omega-3 fatty acids.

The highest levels of Omega 6 compared to Omega 3 are most commonly found in corn, canola, primrose, rice bran, sunflower oils and soya oils.

Coconut oil or more often coconut meal (copra) is commonly added to horses’ diets to promote condition, but it is low in Omega 6 and crucially contains zero omega 3s. Therefore, if you feed this as your only source of fat, your horse will become deficient in Omega 3 essential fatty acid. Coconut oil and copra are more than 90% saturated fatty acids consisting of mostly medium chain triglycerides which do not exist in grasses.  One therefore has to query the value of feeding a fat which is an unnatural source for the horse anyway; likewise with fish oils which are also commonly fed.  Whilst rich in the long chain Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, fish oils are higher in LA than ALA and can be contaminated with heavy metals such as copper or mercury and organic pollutants such as PCBs or dioxins, which makes one wonder if it worth the potential risk.

Current research shows that ratios of Omega 3 to 6 fatty acids fed at around 2-5:1 can provide key benefits to your horse. It can take approximately 30 – 90 days until the benefits of feeding these essential fatty acids can be seen,  but once your horse has a balanced diet with the correct levels of Omega 3 to 6 oils they will have an improved immune system, shown by a glossy coat and their overall health and well-being.

HOW MUCH TO FEED?

This will depend on your feeding goals.  It may take only half a cup of oil a day to add shine to a horse’s coat whereas if you are adding oil for performance benefits than 1-2 cups of oils for a 500kg horse may be needed.  Any additional oil should be added gradually to the horse’s feed and remember that higher rates of fat inclusion may increase the risk for digestive disturbances or reduce calcium absorption via formation of mineral-fat soaps.  Palatability may also be another factor to consider with some horses disliking oils but accepting it in a ‘meal’ form.  Also be mindful that ponies, donkeys, mules and minis are unable to tolerate high levels of fats, nor should fats be added to horses that are already overweight/obese, those prone to hyperlipemia and also avoid fats as part of an initial refeeding programme for starved or severely malnourished horses as many of these horse have compromised gastrointestinal and organ function.

 

 

FINAL NOTE

Feeding a balancer with the correct, balanced levels of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids such as one from the Blue Chip range is the easiest way to ensure your horse or pony is getting everything they need on a daily basis to ensure a nutritionally balanced diet.

For a free diet review and more information on the benefits of  feeding a Blue Chip balancer to your horse or pony to ensure a nutritionally balanced diet contact us via our website www.bluechipfeed.com.au PH: 0408 920707 E:anita@bluechipfeed.com.au.