Feeding oil to horses is now pretty universally accepted as a good way to provide additional non-starch calories for those horses and ponies who need additional calories for work or weight gain, but who require a low starch and sugar diet. Most users also recognize that feeding oils will help produce a glossy coat and healthy skin.
However, in recent years, the type of oil, and its constituent fatty acid make up has received increasing attention, with research focusing on the polyunsaturated fatty acids (or PUFA’s) and two groups in particular, which are thought to have particular health implications for horses and ponies:
Omega 3 fatty acids, which are derived from ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) – including EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The horse is able to convert ALA to EPA and DHA, when ALA is provided in the diet.
Omega 6 fatty acids, which stem from LA (linoleic acid).
Both omega 3’s and omega 6’s play many important roles in the body including:
- Joint health
- Hoof Health
- Immune Function
- Endocrine (hormone) function
- Respiratory function
- Neurological function
- Skin and coat condition
Omega 6’s are metabolised to produce important chemicals which are involved in the pain and inflammatory response, which is vital to support the horse's initial immune response following injury or illness, and so most have become known as pro-inflammatory. Corn oil, soya oil and sunflower oil are all rich in omega 6’s
Omega 3’s -as well as playing key roles in many metabolic processes, their primary roles are to support the horse's own anti-inflammatory processes. Oils high in omega 3’s include fish oils and linseed/flax oils. Fish oils contain EPA and DHA, and linseed oil contains ALA which can be converted to EPA and DHA in the horse’s body.
So there is a balance required between the mainly pro-inflammatory omega 6’s, which are important to support the horse's initial immune response following injury or illness, and omega 3’s, which help support the horse's own anti-inflammatory processes.
The natural diet of horses in the wild consists mainly of fresh forage, which contains more omega 3 fatty acids than omega 6 fatty acids – especially when the grass is growing. Research has not fully determined the ideal ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 in the diet, but it is estimated that fresh grass has a ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 of between 3 and 4:1.
In contrast, the modern competition horse is typically fed a mixture of cereals and dried forages, and this diet is much higher in omega 6’s than omega 3’s, as cereals are naturally higher in omega 6’s and the dry process of hay results in the loss of most omega 3’s. So this diet will typically have a much higher levels of pro-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids, and a low level of omega 3’s to support the horse's own anti-inflammatory processes.
It is now recognised that providing additional sources of omega 3’s in the diet of most horses and ponies, but especially those in hard work , youngstock and breeding horses, older horses or those with very limited access to grazing, is vital to help provide support for the horse's own anti-inflammatory processes, and help to ensure the correct ratio of omega 3’s to omega 6’s in the diet is maintained to promote optimum health and performance.
In practical feeding situations, although fish oils contain higher levels than plant sources of EPA and DHA, they can be very unpalatable, and there are also question marks over sustainability and the environmental impact of using fish oils.
So EA Supreme Omega Oil contains linseed (flax) oil to provide ALA for the horse to convert EPA and DHA, and although the conversion rate is not fully understood, there are marked and noticeable benefits for most horses arising from feeding 30-60 mls per day of this additional source of omega 3 fatty acids.