Sometimes your horse will need additional calories to sustain high energy needs for work/performance, or to help with weight gain. In such a case, oil can be safely added to your horse's diet. Horses with metabolic conditions requiring reduction of dietary sugar and starch can also be fed oils to provide extra calories. Start slowly, building up to no more than one cup per day, depending on the intensity of activity.
However, the type of oil you choose can have a significant impact on your horse's health. Oils that are high in linoleic acid (an omega 6 fatty acid), relative to alpha linolenic acid (ALA) (an omega 3 fatty acid), can lead to an inflammatory response that causes pain and tissue damage. Commonly fed oils that are too high in linoleic acid include soybean oil (often referred to as "vegetable oil") and corn oil. While some linoleic acid is necessary, the diet should be higher in omega 3s. They have been shown to alleviate arthritis symptoms, improve hoof quality, benefit immune function, decrease post-exercise muscle pain, aid in respiratory health, and reduce inflammation throughout the body. Chia seeds, ground flaxseed, and flaxseed oil are commonly used, excellent sources of omega 3s.
Relatively new to horse diets, camelina oil offers an excellent alternative to flaxseed oil. It comes from an edible seed, often referred to as "false flax." It is high in ALA with a 2.5:1 ratio of omega 3s to omega 6s. Although flaxseed oil provides even more ALA --four times more ALA than linoleic acid, camelina oil's shelf life is far superior. It is resistant to oxidative rancidity, making it highly stable. This is because of its remarkably high vitamin E content: 100 ml (slightly less than 1/2 cup) of camelina oil contains 150 IU of natural vitamin E, whereas flaxseed oil only contains 26 IU. Vitamin E is an antioxidant, and as such, it neutralizes damaging free radicals formed when the fatty acids are oxidized from air and light.
As we head into the fall months, pasture grasses are starting to slow down their growth, and produce fewer fatty acids. Hay, of course, contains little to no omega 6s or 3s after it's been stored for a few months. Consequently, your horse relies on additions to his diet to provide these two essential fatty acids. You can feed ground flaxseeds or chia seeds for ALA and linoleic acid, with favorable omega 3:6 ratios, but if you need the most concentrated source of calories, it is best to add oil. Camelina oil offers a high quality option to help fill this need.
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