What is the role of oil in the equine diet?

HorsesFeeding horses oil as part of a comprehensive diet has become much more common in the horse industry in recent years. We have taken a look at the role of oil in the equine diet and how it can provide essential nutrients and energy to our horses and ponies.

Energy and calories can be sourced to the horse in two main ways. Cereals such as oats, barley and maize offer our equines quick release energy through carbohydrate starch. Some horses in hard work require this type of energy source but as carbohydrates are rapidly broken down in the horse’s digestive system causing a rush of fuel to the blood stream it can cause a level of excitability. An alternative is to provide a diet, which is high in fat, alongside sufficient levels of fibre through forage, which is slow in its release to the horse providing longer lasting energy and more stamina.

Some studies suggest that the fall in blood glucose when exercising is reduced when horses are fed oil, which could mean that oil can actually help to delay the onset of fatigue. Oil can also help fussy-feeders as it is extremely palatable, encouraging those horses that are reluctant eaters to tuck into their concentrate feed. Oil is also renowned for helping to encourage a healthy, shiny coat.


Key Benefits of Feeding Oil

  • Oil provides essential fatty acids (EFA), which horses are unable to synthesize themselves.
  • Oil can help improve the skin and hair coat quality of our equines, giving a shiny, glossy and healthy coat.
  • Oil is a useful energy source, which is very easy for our horses to metabolise. In addition it is slow in its breakdown, ideal for horses that “fizz-up” on starch.
  • Oil is high in calories (typically 3-4 times more than cereals) and therefore is energy dense and can promote body condition from a source which is easily digested and absorbed helping our equines maintain condition.
  • Certain oils are high in Omega 3 fatty acids, which is an important nutrient for the maintenance of healthy joints.

Which Oil to Use

When choosing an oil, it is important first to determine the reason for feeding it. If it is for the essential fatty acid content, purchase unprocessed oil that has not had heat treatment; which can destroy the essential fatty acids.

If you are feeding for body condition, oils such as sunflower or corn oil can be acceptable. If you are after the benefits of essential fatty acids, you should purchase oils such as; unprocessed corn, soya oil or linseed oil for your horse available from feed merchants in straight form, or look for balancers and supplements that have a high oil content – such as Horslyx.

Remember when adding any dietary supplements to the diet, make sure the total diet stays balanced and that changes are made gradually so the horse’s digestive tract has time to adjust. The benefits of providing oil in the diet can take around 30-90 days to become apparent so be patient!