The Best Oil to Feed your Horses
As the 21st Century barrels forward in scientific discoveries and knowledge about animal husbandry, we are constantly learning more about better ways to improve our horses’ health. Many things we know now would be unthinkable or unimaginable a hundred years ago are now becoming more and more commonplace. One of the more recent discoveries which is improving equine diets around the globe is the addition of oil to the horse’s diet.
Why Feed Oil to Horses
If wild horses eat grass and plants, why are we even discussing oil? How is that natural, and how can that benefit the horse’s health? In the first place, grains and seeds, which have been part and parcel to the domestic horse’s diet for centuries, all contain oils. Different seeds and grains have different oils which have different impacts on the horse’s health. Furthermore, since the domestic horse has a completely different lifestyle and metabolism than a wild horse, it is fallacious to compare the nutritional needs of a wild horse to that of a domestic horse.
My personal horse taught me this lesson in a difficult way. As an orphaned foal, he suffered from failure to thrive at different stages in his first two years. No matter how much rich pasture and foal-specific grain he was getting daily, he still had dull, ratty fur with vertebrae, ribs, and hipbones sticking out underneath it. Several trainers with a nutritional background gave me the advice of adding oil to his diet. During winter and through shedding season, I began to add linseed oil (called flaxseed oil in the US) to his grain. Linseed oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help with immune system support and healthy coat and skin. Once shedding season was over, I switched to sunflower seed oil, which is cheaper. This oil is cheaper, and a way to add calories to the diet without adding a ton of energy, which can be a risk of feeding alfalfa or increasing the grain ration. My horse began to grow, gain weight, and get a healthy, shiny coat. This technique also helped me to disguise the flavor of turmeric and dewormer, which he needed to have added to his grain for quite some time. I am now a believer in the benefits of feeding oil to horses.
The Best Oils to Feed to Horses
Oils for horses may be classified into two groups: oil-based supplement mixes, and vegetable oils. The most common vegetable oils are as follows:
Flaxseed (a.k.a. Linseed) Oil – high in Omega-3 fatty acid and a good source of vitamin E. This is a good oil to feed during the spring and fall as horses shed one season’s goat and grow in another. It must be stored at cooler temperatures, however, as it can go rancid easily.
Corn Oil – high in Omega-6 fatty acid and very palatable. Readily available from the grocery store. Good for making the coat shine, can make horses more hot and exciteable.
Soybean Oil – high in Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. Good source of protein.
Sunflower Seed Oil – high in Omega-6 fatty acids, readily available, easy on the pocketbook, doesn’t tend to make the horses super “hot” or energetic as other oils can.
Rice Bran Oil – Contains gamma-oryzanol, lecithins, and vitamin E, as well as Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. This oil is very tasty for horses, and great for helping with weight gain.
Wheat Germ Oil – Contains vitamin E and both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids
Coconut Oil – made up of medium-chain triglycerides, this oil may be easier to digest than other oils and help soothe or prevent gastric ulcers and acidosis (there is little to no hard scientific data to back up these claims, however). Personally, I use coconut oil as a hoof dressing and as the base for DIY mane and tail deep conditioners, so I keep some on hand for that anyway. It can be a great way to get your horse to gain weight.
Since most of the varieties of oils address basically the same issues in horses, choosing which oil or oils to use is often a personal preference as a result of trying different varieties and dosages. Each has a different flavor, and some horses seem to prefer some more than others.
How Do I Go About Feeding Oil to My Horse?
As with most things, start small and increase slowly. If you just want to make your horse’s coat nice and shiny, then a tablespoon or two (about 50 mL) should suffice. However, for weight gain, you may need to go up two cups (up to 500 mL) daily. Don’t just start dumping oil in your horse’s food though. Overfeeding oil or adding it too quickly, can cause diarrhea, bloating, or gas, and as we all know, these can lead to dehydration and colic. A good rule of thumb is to feed 100 mL of oil per 100 kg of body weight (or 3.5 oz per 220 lbs of body weight). Give it a few weeks to a month and see how your horse’s body reacts. You can always adjust based on the results. With my horse, on flaxseed/linseed oil I began seeing results in his energy levels within a week, and his coat began to improve after about 4 weeks. When he needed to simply gain weight, I switched him to sunflower seed oil, and it took about 6 weeks for him to really get to a healthy weight.
As with every horse’s diet, care should be taken to feed with careful purpose. Be sure that your vet and/or an equine nutritionist are the main advisors on your horse’s meal plan. Getting a horse’s micronutrients, sugars, or calories out of balance can cause health problems that far outweigh the nutritional benefits. But if your horse is a hard keeper or needs to have something nasty-tasting disguised in his food, consider adding an oil to his diet to improve his overall health.
Which oil do you think would be the best addition to your horse’s diet?