Equine Nutrition Tips: Added Fat

Fat is where it’s at when it comes to enhancing horse health.

From AQHA Corporate Partner Nutrena

Horses on fat-supplemented diets experience increased endurance. Journal photo.

Lately there has been tremendous interest in the horse world about fat. In regard to human nutrition, “fat” is often considered a bad word, and low-fat diets are popular. But we should remember that some fats for both humans and equines are necessary and healthy and play a very important role in nutrition.

Because horses can use fat as a calorie source efficiently, and fat contains more than double the calories of starch, high-fat horse feeds make perfect sense to increase the energy intake without greatly increasing the quantity of feed needed.

There are many reasons to feed horses added fat. The best reason is for an energy (calorie) source. Other reasons for adding fat to a feed ration include improved endurance, heat tolerance, hair coat and attitude:

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    • Horses on fat-supplemented diets experience increased endurance because of a glycogen-sparing effect. Glycogen is the fuel for muscular activity stored in the muscle cells. Horses that are on high-fat diets conserve glycogen, which can help them finish a performance event stronger. This is particularly important in racing, eventing, cutting and other activities that require high performance over time.
    • A shiny hair coat, a side benefit of added fat in the diet, is important to horse owners who are showing or selling horses. Higher fat levels, especially those that contain a balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, are good choices.
    • Horse owners often report that horses who are fed lower-starch diets with added fat have a calmer attitude than those fed a conventional high-starch and forage diet.

It is important to keep in mind that indiscriminate fat supplementation can create deficiencies of other nutrients. Equine nutritionists generally recommend against adding just oil - corn oil, soybean oil, etc. Simply adding oil adds calories, but they are empty calories - you need to provide additional nutrition to support the increased energy in the horse. Provide a supplement that is high in fat, but also adds antioxidants such as Vitamin E. Look for a supplement with balanced Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. A good ratio to look for is 1:5, respectively.

Good nutrition is very important for making sure your horse can perform at his best. If you need more information on how to keep your horse healthy, check out AQHA's "Your Horse's Health" DVDs. You'll find all the advice you need for maintaining your horse's health.

There also is a period of adjustment of about three to four weeks for horses to receive benefits from added fat. Any change in diet should be done gradually over seven to10 days to avoid the possibility of digestive upsets.

A balanced diet, tailored to the use and age of the horse, is the most important consideration. A trained nutritional consultant can make recommendations that will best fit your horse and the activity involved.

For more information on equine nutrition, visit NutrenaWorld.com. Also visit HorseFeedBlog.com, an informative community platform that covers a wide range of topics, including horse feed, feeding tips, digestive health and horse management.