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Fats Play An Important Role In Horse Nutrition

Fats play a very important role in equine nutrition. The main reason for using added fat is for an energy (calorie) source. Horses can use fat as a calorie source efficiently. Fat can also lower the risk of health conditions such as colic and laminitis, by reducing the amount of starch (carbohydrates) in the ration. Additional reasons for adding fat to a horse's diet are to improve endurance, heat tolerance, hair coat and attitude.

Horses on fat supplemented diets experience increased endurance because of a glycogen sparing effect, or the use of non-carbohydrates as a source of energy during exercise. Glycogen is the fuel for muscular activity that is stored in the muscle cells. Horses that are on high fat diets tend to conserve glycogen, which can help them finish strong during performance events. Horses trained in hot, humid environments show improvement to heat tolerance because added fat generates less heat as a by-product of digestion.

A shiny hair coat is important to horse owners who are showing or selling horses. Higher fat levels, especially those that contain a balance of omega three and omega six essential fatty acids, are good choices for those in the show ring or sale ring business. In addition, horses that are fed lower-starch diets with added fat tend to be calmer than those that are fed a high starch and forage diet.

Types of Fat

Vegetable oils and animal fats are both available fat sources. Animal fat is seldom used because of public perception and decreased palatability compared to vegetable sources. Corn oil, soy oil, rice bran and flax seed are the most popular fat sources for horses. There are advantages and disadvantages of each.

Corn oil is very palatable and digestible; however it does not have a favorable balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Soy oil is high in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, but is not as palatable as corn oil. Rice Bran is unstable and becomes rancid quickly, especially in hot weather. Flax seed contains linseed oil, which produces a shiny hair coat. It also contains a high proportion of omega three fatty acids to omega six fatty acids.

Be aware that when adding more fat to a horse’s diet, it takes about three to four weeks for horses to receive benefits from added fat. Any change in diet should be done gradually over seven to 10 days to avoid the possibility of digestive upsets.