Most people think fat is bad but when feeding healthy fats, it can be beneficial. Some horses may need to gain weight while others have trouble keeping it on. Regardless of the reason your horse is currently a little leaner than you’d like, adding a fat source to his or her daily ration will help. Also, if you are increasing your horse’s workout, adding a supplement with fat will help increase his energy level and maintain his weight.
Digestible Energy for Horses
Energy is required to maintain a horse’s body at rest and especially during physical activity. It’s necessary for a healthy pregnancy and lactation. Young horses need it to fuel their growth. As an equine athlete’s workload increases, they require a diet that meets their energy needs along with protein, fiber and essential vitamins, and minerals.
There are actually four types of energy but to keep things simple, we’ll stick to discussing the energy that your horse’s body actually utilizes. That is referred to as Digestible Energy (DE). Simply put, DE means digestibility. There is a scientific formula for figuring out exactly what a horse’s energy needs are by calculating how much energy is fed, digested and then subtract what is lost in feces and urine. But, without a lab to examine the samples, you can safely assume that a diet higher in calories (fat) is necessary to sustain activity levels and body condition.
Why Are Healthy Fats Important in Equine Diets?
Not only do horses require fat (calories) to fuel their body, many vitamins are fat-soluble and depend on lipids (fat molecules) to carry them to the small intestine. Diets too low in fat can actually cause vitamin deficiencies creating health issues.
The equine diet is fairly simple: grains, grass and water. Domestic horses are fed commercial feeds that are high in fiber and are often designed for specific life stages (breeding, growing, performance, senior and maintenance). When a horse requires more fat calories to maintain their body condition or stamina, adding a fat source is an effective way to increase the calorie intake without increasing the volume of grain being fed.
Hard Keeper Solution
There’s one in every barn. You know the one. The horse with the feed bucket that is fuller than all the others yet he is always on the thin side. Horses like that are known as ‘hard-keepers’ and many owners struggle to find the right diet. Adding extra calories can help hard keepers maintain a healthy weight, body condition and slick coat. Because fat contains more than two times the calories as carbohydrates or protein, adding a weight gainer supplement increases their daily calorie intake. Feeding less grain and more calories with a supplement is important to note because it minimizes the risk of colic from overfeeding.
What Is A Good Source of Fat for Horses?
Corn oil used to be the go to fat source for many horse owners. Over the years, other fat sources, such as fatty acids, have proven to be healthier and more effective. Fatty acids or Omega-3 and Omega-6, can be added to the daily rations in oil form. Most oils like flaxseed, soybean, rice bran and camelina are highly palatable and high in fat calories. Fish oil is a great option as it is high in Omega-6 but the odor may not be appetizing to some horses.
Feeding Fat for Energy and Performance
An easier, less messy solution to feeding oils is purchasing a proven high-fat horse supplement. This concentrated source of calories can be top-dressed and fed to most horses without refusal. This is a great option for all horses needing additional calories to gain more energy like hard working athletes, hard-keepers, seniors and young, growing horses. Also, for horses that chronically tie-up, feeding a high-fat, low-carb diet can reduce episodes. As always, provide plenty of forage (hay) and free access to fresh water to facilitate healthy digestion and maintain overall wellness.
Our recommendations are not a substitute for proper veterinarian care. If you suspect your horse’s weight loss or inability to maintain a healthy weight is due to an underlying condition, please contact your large animal vet for evaluation as soon as possible.