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Why add oil to the diet?

Grooming horse Oils are an energy dense food, providing high amounts of calories in a small volume (over twice as much energy is produced from metabolism of fats such as linseed oil than from carbohydrates in cereals) this allows calories to be easily added to the diet, ideal for those needing to gain condition or performance horses. Oils are also beneficial for performance in another way. Oils can only be broken down to produce energy when oxygen is being supplied (aerobic), which occurs during low intensity exercise, such as when walking and trotting, and slow cantering in fitter horses. In faster work, when oxygen is not available at a rate to produce enough energy to sustain the movement, anaerobic (without oxygen) break down of glycogen and glucose occurs to meet energy requirements. It has been shown that by gradually conditioning a horse to a high oil diet, they start to use oil fuel preferentially for aerobic exercise. This means when the horse starts to perform higher intensity exercise, which requires breakdown of fuels without oxygen, they have a ‘full tank’ of glycogen ready to be broken down, hence can perform for longer, and recover faster from intense work. What are Omega oils, and why are they important? Omega oils are fatty acids which are not made within the body. For this reason they are known as ‘essential’ fatty acids as they must be included in the diet. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids have many roles within the body, so a dietary supply of these is essential. Omega 3 has anti-inflammatory properties and is important for development within the womb. Even short term supplementation has been shown to help the skin and coat and have anti-inflammatory effects. Long term addition to the diet also helps the respiratory tract, joint health, bone density, has been shown to increase fertility of stallions, and support the immune system of foals feeding from an omega-3 supplemented mare. Conversely, Omega 6 is a pro-inflammatory, so it increases inflammatory responses. While this seems negative, Omega 6 is still necessary in the diet, as this action is needed to heal wounds and battle infection.  It also has other roles in the body, such as in hormone production. As with most aspects of nutrition, balance is the key!  Oils such as Sunflower Oil and Rice bran are not recommended to be fed to horses as they have high levels of Omega 6, without the Omega 3 to balance it. Oils such as Linseed oil are considered beneficial, with a 1;4 Omega 6:3 ratio. What else do I need to consider when feeding Oils? Adding oil to the diet needs to occur gradually, as it is broken down using bile.  In humans, the gall bladder stores and releases bile. Horses do not have a gall bladder, as they have not evolved to eat a high fat diet.  Instead, the liver produces a steady trickle of bile, and can gradually be trained to produce higher levels to allow a higher fat diet to be utilised by the horse.  When feeding a high oil diet, it is advisable to also feed an anti-oxidising supplement as during the break down of oil to produce energy, free radicals are released. If these are not stabilised by antioxidants, they can cause damage to cells, which may lead to muscular issues. To find out more about the best way to feed oil to your horse call us on 0800 585525 and speak to one of our friendly and knowledgeable team, or use our online chat service at