Feeding Fat to Horses

Lately there has been tremendous interest in the horse world about fat. In regards to human nutrition, “fat” is often considered a bad word, and low-fat diets are popular. But we should remember that in people, some fats are necessary and healthy. This is equally true for horses: fats play a very important role in horse feeds and nutrition.

There are many reasons to feed horses added fat. The best reason for using added fat is for an energy (calorie) source. The primary purpose for grain feeding is to provide energy for maintenance, performance, growth and reproduction.  Because fat contains more than twice the calorie content of starch, and horses digest and utilize fat well, higher fat horse feeds offer an excellent opportunity to increase calorie intake without greatly increasing the quantity of feed.

Other reasons for adding fat to a feed ration include improved endurance, heat tolerance, hair coat and attitude:

  • Horses on fat supplemented diets experience increased endurance because of a glycogen sparing effect. Glycogen is the fuel for muscular activity that is 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.
  • Horses trained in hot, humid environments show improvement to heat tolerance because fat supplemented rations generate less heat as a by-product of digestion. This becomes important in parts of the country where heat is prevalent.
  • 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 three and omega six fatty acids, are good choices for those in the show ring or sale ring business.
  • Horse owners often report that horses that are fed lower-starch diets with added fat have a calmer attitude than those that are 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. This is known as empty calories; where energy levels are adequate, but protein, lysine and mineral levels are not. Developmental bone problems can result which may precipitate injuries in young horses.

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.

13 thoughts on “Feeding Fat to Horses

  1. i have been feeding my horses a fat supliment heavily for the last 3 years and it has benifited my herd greatly! my performance horses are calmer but yet maintain weight easyer, and my brood mares and foals are maintaining and growing better and everything on the place shines like a new penny! i feed a complete equine mineral daily along with the fat supliment added to just basic livestock pellets and it works wonderfully!

  2. Back in the 90s when I owned and operated a public riding stable, I went on a mission. I was going to change the stereotype of the trail string horse. I treated each of my horses as very special individuals. It was imperative that they looked good, felt healthy, and were happy.
    That’s when I began a self-taught regimen to understand equine nutrition. I found that a diet high in fat and fiber was what I needed for horses working 7 to 8 hours a day on a regular basis: fat for the energy storage and fiber to help maintain hydration (as well as it’s other obvious benefits).
    I began feeding my own special blend (the mill and I referred to it as my “trail mix”) and my horses bloomed. The public took notice, too.
    A few years later, I began to see pre-mixed feeds adding fat. But I wouldn’t buy it if it had less than 10% fat.
    I am happy to see that in recent years many more feeds/manufacturers have begun to see the benefits of a high-fat diet.
    Yay! for the horses!

  3. I add a fat supplement to my old mare’s Nutrena Senior, and she has maintained a terrific weight, going into and now through this winter. Is there one kind of fat supplement that is better than another? She is 29 yo. and this has been the best she’s looked in winter; good weight, hair and feet. I top dress her grain with soybean oil. Is one type of fat supplement better than another?

    • Hi Kim, Great question. One thing about supplements, is that you will get a different opinion from every horse owners out there, that’s for sure! From a pure nutritional perspective, we generally recommend against adding just an oil – corn oil, soybean oil, whatever type. Simply adding oil adds calories, but they are empty calories – you need to provide additional nutrition to support the increased energy in the horse. Look for a supplement that is high in fat, but also adds anti-oxidants such as Vitamin E. You also want to look for a supplement with balanced Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids – a good ratio to look for is 1:5 respectively.
      Hope that helps, please let us know if you have more questions.
      Thanks ~ Gina T.

  4. Sarah I’d love to get more info on your program…I have 10 horses right now in all different stages of life. I’m feeding them all Safe Choice which they all love. I’ve not added anything to it since I feed the recommendations. I’m always open to different and new suggestions, and I like the sound of yous…Thanks…

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  6. How do you find a feed nutritionist for a horse? I’m finding that I’m feeding our horse 4-5 flakes a day just to keep the weight on her. She gets tons of exercise so I feel she needs to eat more and she seems to eat fast. Any recomendations?

    • Hi Karen,
      Thanks for checking in with us. For finding a nutritionist, there are a couple options. We’d be glad to help you here, or on our Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/nutrena, or you can also visit http://www.nutrenaworld.com and use the “Ask a Nutrition Consultant” link on the contact us page – that will auto-direct your request for information to the local consultant based on your zip code. Your local feed store might also be a good source of information.
      If you would like help here, just tell us a little more about your feeding program – what are you feeding besides the flakes of hay, and how much of that are you providing?
      Thanks ~ Gina T.

  7. Pingback: High-Fat Horse Diets: Performance Horses | The Feed Room

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  9. if nutrena is sincere about the fat content in feed, i think they should take some initiative to increase the fat content in some of their lower priced feeds like stock and stable and non-nutrena labels (the feeds that most people can afford). nutrena and other companies do not hesitate to increase feed prices, so please share the burden of this drought and consider the fat content along with the price increases for your customers. later.tim

    • Hi Tim, Thanks for the great question, and we do apologize for the delay in responding.

      One of the challenges that comes with adding higher fat levels to feeds, is that it isn’t cheap. Every 1% increase in the fat level of a product adds a pretty decent increase in the price of the bag. Not only do you have the cost of adding the actual fat, but formulation must also adjust to add certain nutrients needed by the horse, such as Vitamin E, to help the horse process & utilize the fat properly, and keep the energy-to-nutrient ratio in balance. So, unfortunately, adding fat would move the lower priced options out of that lower-priced category. We do have options such as our Triumph feeds that are in between the Stock and Stable and the higher end products like SafeChoice. As a horse owner, you could choose to move just those horses that would need additional fat in their diets – since not all horses need it! A good number of horses out there don’t need the added fat – many barely need any feed at all! So we need to keep options for them as well.

      Please let us know if you have further questions!
      Thank you ~ Gina T.

  10. I help get horses back to a healthy weight. I use calf manna, calf manna supplements for horses, orchard grass pellets, alfalfa pellets, barn yard mix grain,canola oil, and sometimes a complete feed. I may adjust the mix frequently depending on the response from the horse. I give days to adjust to changes. And can take as long as 6 months to show a good results, depending on size and health of horse. I have a horse who is in wonderful condition who I have used this diet for 17 years. She only receives a lb a day of grain and supplements plus grass and hay. she still acts like she did at 5 and I still ride her.

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