The main intent for feeding a horse is to enhance its productivity and wellbeing. Understanding this concept, many veterinarians and horse handlers have begun to include fat supplements in the horse’s diet. This interest has also encouraged a significant amount of research on the topic over the last decade. While the experts admit that there is still a lot of unknown aspects regarding this, the calorie effect of feeding the right amount of fat to horses are well-documented.

What is fat?

There is quite a lot of stigma associated with the word ‘fat’. It is misunderstood and there is a popular misconception that all fats are bad! Fats fed to horses are known as triglycerides. They comprise three fatty-acid molecules. This composition determines whether the fat is unsaturated or saturated. Unsaturated fats contain a double bond in the fatty acids while saturated fats do not have a double bond.  

What are the sources of fat?

Technically speaking, there is little or no fat present in traditional horse food. The preferred source of fat for horses is vegetable oil. Common vegetable oil consists of soybean, canola, rice oil, and corn. All these sources are very high in fat content. Other supplementations include spray-dried vegetable fat, high-fat stabilized rice barn, etc.

Is fat digestible?

Unsaturated vegetable oil is highly digestible by horses. Over 95% of the oil can be digested by the horse. It is digested in the small intestine and the animal can digest up to 20% of its total diet in oil.

How much fat do I feed my horse?

Although horses are capable of digesting large amounts of fat, but you must ensure to gradually introduce it. Ideally, you can feed 2 cups/day for a 1,000 lb horse. However, more oil can be fed for special diets. Always consult with your vet to know exactly how much oil to feed your horse on a daily basis.

Benefits of feeding fat to horses

  • It’s a safe option to help in a horse’s weight gain.
  • It enhances performance in racehorses. Studies have shown that fat is a primary source of energy in horses when the exercise is 75% below its VO2 max.
  • Energy balance and body fat are major determinants in reproductive performance in mares. Fats can also help during pregnancy when the feed intake is generally limited.
  • It helps nourish the coat of the horse. A quality, shiny hair coat is the result of supplementing essential fatty acids to your horse.
  • High grain diets cause a potential problem of tying-up in horses. Also known as rhabdomyolysis, this is a painful condition that the horse endures. Including fat in their diet has been known to minimize symptoms of tying-up.

Although there is negative stigma associated with fats, it is an imperative part of a horse’s diet. Vegetable fat is one of the main sources of fats that can be supplemented to the diet and it is highly digestible. It is advised to feed 2 cups/day of vegetable oil per 1,000 lbs to your horse. However, special diets can incorporate more oil. It is important to consult your veterinarian before determining the ideal quantity for your horse.

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