When it comes to the equine diet, there is a lot of conflicting information about what should and shouldn’t be fed, including fat. Here, I’ll cover some thoughts on fat in the equine diet, including a discussion of omegas, unsaturated/saturated fats, and essential fatty acids (EFAs). I’ll break down why essential fatty acids for horses are necessary, how they help, and what to do to keep the equine body in balance, including supplementation options.
Are EFAs Necessary?
Fats are important to the equine diet, including both saturated and unsaturated fats. Horses can manufacture saturated fats from excess carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Essential fatty acids (polyunsaturated and unsaturated fats) should be of particular concern to horse owners, because horses cannot synthesize them, and they must be added to the horse’s diet. Essential fatty acids are best known as omega-3 (e.g., EPA, DHA, and ALA) and omega-6 fatty acids. They are found in certain plants, as well as in cold-water fish. EFAs help support the immune system; improve coat and hair condition; and serve as carriers for fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
How Do EFAs Help?
The essential fatty acids produce hormones called prostaglandins, which enable the body to participate in necessary life functions. These hormones are in charge of many processes, such as tissue repair, growth regulation, central nervous system actions, inflammation control, and pain signal function. When the body is deficient in essential fatty acids, problems develop, such as hair loss, skin problems, and impaired immune and reproductive function.
Keep Omega-3 and Omega-6 in Balance
It might seem as simple as giving your horse these essential fatty acids and letting their body do all the work. That’s not exactly the case. Certain oils are going to produce different kinds of prostaglandins that participate in each function, and an overabundance of one over another (especially omega-6 oils over omega-3 oils) can be an issue. For example, too many omega-6 oils can increase the rates of degenerative diseases and inflammation. However, we can’t just eliminate the omega-6s, because they are in charge of developing those same signals of pain and inflammation. That’s where the omega-3s come in and create balance, as nature intended. We see that healthy balance in pasture grasses and freshly cut hay. Although containing only 2% to 3% fat, fresh and dried forage are balanced in that they have greater concentrations of omega-3 than omega-6 fatty acids, whereas grains are not. By maintaining a balanced omega ratio in our feed program, we give our optimum function.
Supplementing Essential Fatty Acids for Horses
There are many different ways to add these essential fatty acids into the diet naturally, and two good options are gamma oryzanol and spirulina. Gamma oryzanol is a rice bran oil derivative. As a plant oil, it is high in unsaturated fats and essential fatty acids. Gamma oryzanol, along with many other oils, allows less grain to be fed while offering the nutrition and fat horses need. It contains 2.5 times more energy than oats and is digested more efficiently in the horses’ small intestine. Spirulina, a highly nutritious aquaculturally grown algae, may also be given to add in EFAs to the diet. Filled with antioxidants, amino acids, B-vitamins and more, spirulina is a great source of GLA (gamma-linolenic acid). GLA, a natural source of omega 6, helps support a healthy inflammatory response, supports heart health, and maintains a healthy allergic response for healthy skin and coat. Spirulina can also nourish the endocrine systems and maintain healthy tissues, making it a great addition to any feed program.
Products from Springtime including spirulina and gamma oryzanol for horses…