Demystifying the Feeding of Oil to Horses

14th April 2021
Beryl Shuttleworth
2 Responses

There is such a lot of misinformation regarding the feeding of oil to horses. I thought I’d spend this morning demystifying the whole thing.

Should we feed oil to our horses?

There are quite a few benefits of feeding oil to horses. Amongst these are shiny coats, joint health, glycogen sparing, weight gain, advantageous to gut health and good for ulcers.

How do we decide which oil to feed?

If you are feeding to add calories to a bad doer’s diet or to enhance coat condition, it doesn’t really matter which oil you feed.  Any oil will be used for energy, storage and skin. But it is vitally important that you don’t do any harm when supplementing either – and this is where the relative content of Omega oils plays a role.

Omega 9 is a non-essential fatty acid – the horse can make its own when needed, so we don’t have to provide it in the diet.

The truth is the impact of the various fatty acids on equine health is hugely complicated. The whole ‘Omega 3 is good, Omega 6 is bad’ narrative is oversimplified. Both groups have a role to play.

That said, the point that most scientists agree on is that most modern horse diets are too high in Omega 6, so it makes sense to supplement with an oil that has a ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 of at least 1.5:1 to 3:1. Diets too high in Omega 6 have been shown to contribute to inflammation and to decrease immunity.

Ideally, therefore, choose an oil that has more Omega 3 than Omega 6.

The most studied Omega 3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Both are beneficial for your horse’s health. The Omega 3 fatty acid most commonly provided by plant oils as listed below is ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which is, in horses (unlike humans), fairly easily converted to EPA and DHA.

I’ve compiled a table listing commonly used South African oils and their values.

OilOmega 3Omega 6Ratio O3:O6Ranking
Sunflower oil1%711:714
Olive oil1%9%1:93
Canola oil11%21%1:22
Flaxseed (linseed) oil57%16%3.6:11

As you can see, the only oil that qualifies for our ‘more O3 than O6’ rule is Flaxseed oil (Linseed oil). Canola oil is in second place, so, if price is an issue, it is not a bad alternative. Neither Olive oil, nor Sunflower oil are good options.

Cold pressed oils are usually more nutrient dense than the more commonly used solvent extracted oils. But again, cost can be an issue.

You certainly don’t have to find a hugely price inflated expensively branded oil for horses. You might be paying for their hugely inflated marketing campaign.

How do we feed it?

Add oil directly to your horse’s feed, mixing it in well. (This has the added benefit of decreasing dustiness.) When you first start feeding it, start slowly with about a quarter cup a day. A sudden start may induce diarrhoea. Slowly build up to a daily amount of one to two cups per day.

Then sit back and watch your horse benefit.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Beryl interesting read thank you. I feed macronised linseed for weight gain and coat shine as I understand this has a good 3,6 9 ratio. Many feds contain oil but one of mine has EMS and I am reluctant despite the benefits to feed oil for fear of tipping him into laminitis.
    I have a 25 year old who in the summer has local cold pressed rapeseed oil. This is to help her seasonal asthma because I find it helps with inflammation. She loves it!
    Claire (UK)

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