Adding Oil to a Horse’s Diet

Healthy, inside and out

Adding vegetable oil to equine feeds or to equine diets has been a standard practice for literally hundreds of years.  Old horse traders knew that adding oil could help slick up a horse for sale long before the science of measuring digestible energy was developed.

There are multiple ways that vegetable oils are added to horse diets.  A common practice among horse owners is to add various quantities of oil on top of an existing diet.  A cup of oil will weigh about 8 ounces and contain about 2,045 Kcal (Calories).  A 500 kg (1100 lb) horse at light work requires about 20 Mcal or 20,000 Kcal, so that oil would provide about 10% of the required DE per day.  For comparison, a pound of oats, as fed, provides about 1,320 Kcal, so adding oil provides a lot of Calories in a small package.

A key element to consider in adding oil on top of an existing diet is that oil adds only Calories (crude/unrefined oils may also contain some Vitamin E), so it is possible to alter the nutrient to Calorie ratios in a diet.  With the addition of moderate quantities of oil, this is unlikely to create issues.  If a substantial amount of oil is added on top of an existing diet, the diet may no longer be meeting the horse’s requirements for other nutrients.  Corn oil, soy oil and other vegetable oils may be used for top dressing diets.

Feed companies also add oil to formulated feeds and will declare the minimum amount of crude fat on the tag.  This is primarily from the oil in the grain and the added oil if above 3-3.5%.  A feed that is tagged at 7%  will generally contain about 3-4% added oil.  Internal formulations systems will also calculate the total DE of the feed, which includes energy from fat as well as from NDF (neutral detergent fiber), NFC (non-fiber carbohydrates) and protein.   This allows the company to maintain the balance of energy sources as well as appropriate nutrient to Calorie ratios.

If a product refers to Omega 3 or Omega 6 fatty acids, the actual quantity or % of each fatty acid may also be declared on the tag or on the bag.  The ingredient listing will generally identify the oil or oils that may be included in the product. 

Top dressing with oil is a common practice, which can be done successfully, when done in moderation with a careful eye on meeting the total nutrient requirements of the horse as well as the energy requirements.  Adding too much may result in other nutrient issues.

This entry was posted in Ingredients in Horse Feed, Supplements.
Tagged as , , , .

21 Responses to Adding Oil to a Horse’s Diet

  1. Lea says:

    I’ve added vegetable oil to my horses feed for about 13 years now. It not only helps with their coat and calories, but it also helps with digestion. During the season change horses tend to colic more often, if not closely watched. The oil tends to keep everything flowing nicely so to speak! I use a squirt pump that fits right onto a large bottle of oil. I just top their daily ration with one squirt! The beautiful coat is just an added treat!

    • Amy says:

      I do the exact same thing as Lea. My TB was colicing, adding a 1/4 cup corn oil to his feed helped with his digestion and no issues since!

  2. Leslie says:

    I am in the process of switching my horse’s feed to Nutrena’s Safe Choice. I have noticed that his “output” is drier and have started to add back oil to his ration. Coming into winter, the extra calories help keep his weight steady as well.

    • Roy J. says:

      Hello Leslie, Thanks for commenting. Adding oil is a good way to provide extra calories.

      As we come in to winter, it is also important to make sure that we provide salt free choice, preferably loose form, and fresh clean water at temperature above freezing. As temperatures drop, horses are a bit less likely to lick salt blocks. Water consumption may drop also as temperatures drop and water is cold. In some cases, dry manure may indicate that water consumption has dropped and the moisture content of pasture grass has dropped.

      Thanks ~ Roy J.

  3. terry westin says:

    OH YES Oil in horse feeds such a good Idea depending on the type of oil never wanna go cheep good quilty name brand is best I advse people on how to care for and feed their horses if specalized care seems to be needed I will do that. for the most part Horse people undarstand and figuar it out and respect my input add this oil for this or this oil for that. There are horse people who are old school Bully’s they call them selves trainers who will ignore my advice. And the part time hobby people who just say ok and do it. Then the wanna be’s who get on the internet to look up EVERYTHING come back tell you that it is wrong to feed oil because. the truth is its good sroce of Cal. with out producing hot energy. Also helps things moving along.

  4. Kayleigh Burrows says:

    Hi, I’m planning on adding vegetable oil to my horses diet as the pasture is lacking grass at the moment. He is a 15.3 Thoroughbred, being hacked out a few times a week, what sort of oil to I buy… Normal vegetable oil from a supermarket? Also, how much should I give to him and do I add it to his usual feed? Thanks, Kayleigh :)

    • Gina T. says:

      Hi Kayleigh, Thanks for checking in. Yes, you can use regular corn or veggie oil from the grocery store. We recommend 1/4 cup per day, but make sure to start out with adding just a few table spoons per day, until the horse gets used to it and work your way up to 1/4 cup. You can do more than that if needed but you want to keep the feed palatable also keep an eye on their stools.
      Thanks~ Gina T.

  5. MillieH says:

    Hi, I have a 7year old welsh gelding and with him living out full time his coat isnt looking as shiny as it should at the moment. Ive heard people talking about how oil helps but just wanted to check. Will normal vegetable oil from the local supermakerts be okay to put into his feed if I gradually get him use to it?
    Thanks,
    Millie

    • Gina T. says:

      Hi Millie, Thanks for the question. Yes, you can use regular vegetable oil right from the supermarket. You will definitely want to start out just a little with every feeding, and gradually work up to a 1/2 cup or so per day. Going to fast may result in some loose stools as the digestive system adapts to the extra oil.
      Also, you may want to consider evaluating his overall diet, to check for any imbalances or lack of nutrients. Especially with some of the lower quality hay supplies this year, this is something many horses may be facing.
      Good luck ~ Gina T.

      • MillieH says:

        Hi Gina, thanks for getting back to me. I will deffinetly try it and see if it makes a difference. His feed at the moment consists of normal pasture mix with apple chop and as he lives out he has fibre beet to keep his weight on. I hope it works, where hopefuly going to be showing in a couple of months and want him to be looking his best!
        Millie

  6. Carol Atmar says:

    I recently lost a beloved Arabian mare to colic. After three months of horse-shopping, I have an Arab gelding, and I am deeply concerned that he get the right kind of feed and properly balanced nutrition. Various “horse people” are generous and trying to be helpful in their suggestions. They have recommended SafeChoice, beet pulp, and Purina Senior, along with table salt and vegetable oil. Sheik needs some weight. He’s about 15-1 or so and 1150 lbs. I feed three times a day and, remembering that he has been on pasture for 2 years, know that he is in a transition period right now and should be gradually gotten into his new diet. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

    • Gina T. says:

      Hello Carol, Thanks for visiting our blog, and we’re sorry to hear about your mare! That is never easy.
      For your new friend Sheik, we would recommend first to get him on as much hay and/or pasture as possible – free choice is best, and extra hay can add some needed weight. Then, for the most balanced source of calories, we would suggest picking a single product designed to help horses put on weight. There is no need to mix two commercial products together, and adding beet pulp can actually throw off the nutrient balance that is built in to a commercial product, so we typically recommend against it. It’s akin to adding a random ingredient to a pre–packaged cake mix – it’s just not likely to work right!
      From our product line, either SafeChoice Original or SafeChoice Perform are excellent options. Unless he is older and having dental issues, there shouldn’t be a need for a senior feed. Make sure you weigh the amount you feed him, and that the amount you feed falls within the recommended guidelines for his size & activity level. You can feed for at the high end of the recommended range, until he gets to the desired weight, and then back off gradually until you find the amount of feed that he maintains at. For a horse of his size, the feeding rate for light activity on SafeChoice original will be 5.5 – 8.5 pounds. Remember to introduce it gradually to him, to avoid digestive upset.
      Keep the salt available free choice – all horses should have this!
      Thanks ~ Gina T.

      • Carol Atmar says:

        Gina, Thanks so much for your reply. Sheik is a rescue horse and has been on pasture for about 2 years or so. He gets coastal bermuda free choice now, and I am supplementing some alfalfa mash as well. I bought beet pulp, which I’ve never used on horses before, on the advice of a local horsewoman. According to his papers, he’s 15; his teeth were floated a couple of weeks ago, so there are no dental issues. I’ve also wondered about supplements. SmartPac has a product called Colicare (I think), but I don’t want to get so overburdened with a hodgepodge of feeds. Since I lost Pris to colic, I’m super cautious about it. I’ve had horses colic, but I’ve never lost one to it. This gelding will have no demands other than standing for the farrier and the vet, eating, sleeping,…you get the picture.

  7. Jenna says:

    Hello,

    I have a 4 year old Irish Sport Horse. He is in training right now (4-6 days a week). He gets free choice good quality hay, as well as pasture (not the absolute best but it’s adequate). Out 24/7 in the good months. He is fed twice a day, and he gets a pound of buckeye’s “trifecta”, plus “maintenance” feed at each feeding. He is not frighteningly thin, but he is ribby. His shoulders don’t have that nice bulky look either, more of a flat almost concave look. I started to give him a special third ration a day (timothy/alfalfa hay cubes with more trifecta, and some added rice bran oil) in hopes that he would put on weight. I saw no difference. I have been told he is growing but he has been the same height for several months now, and there has been little or no change in his weight. He has had his teeth done, and I have had blood taken to check for internal problems. Do I need to feed more oil? Probiotics? I’m going to have the vet out but I don’t know what to do at this point. He just won’t gain weight even though he seemingly stuffs himself full of hay and every other horse in the pasture is fat and happy including my 13 year old standardbred with the worst parrot mouth you have ever seen and a cleft pallet. If he can be fat I swear any horse can! This is what worries me. Please help!

    • Roy J. says:

      Hello Jenna, Thank you for contacting us. This sounds to be potentially a problem with a lack of quality protein for the amount of work this horse is doing, rather than just a lack of calories or a digestive issue. Every horse has different needs from a metabolism standpoint, and there is always a “problem child” in every barn, so no need to worry!

      First, feeding just a pound or two a day of a commercially prepared feed is generally not going to provide the protein required of a working horse. First, get a weight estimate on your horse, then look at the tag on your feed of choice and ensure you are feeding according to directions. Most performance feeds actually require 5 or more pounds per day – that may seem like a lot, but you’ve got a large animal burning a lot of calories on your hands. Hay diets are adequate for pasture ornaments, but not working horses. Feeding according to the directions will solve both your issue of weight gain, and should also improve the “flat” appearance in his shoulders by providing the amount of protein needed to build & repair muscle.

      Thank you ~ Roy J.

  8. Violet says:

    Hello, I have a 16year old thourghbred/Quarter horse cross, 15.3 hands who has lost his weight and is at a point where you can just see his ribs. He is currently on 2 feed scoops of Purina Simpliciti Fat & Fibre, and I have just started to increase it to three. He also is on 2nd cut hay from this year. I was also feeding him a cup of ground flax seeds but cut them out of his diet. Would adding a 1/4cup of oil help him put pack on the fat he needs? or should I add an other feed to his diet like soaked beet pulp or sweet feed? He has been off work the past few weeks, and i’m wondering if he is loosing the weight due to the fact that he is a very nervous horse and he is just worked up because he has not been getting exercise.

    • Gina T. says:

      Hello Violet, Thank you for contacting us. Given that your horse has been off work, but not changing his diet, it’s possible that what you are seeing may be a decrease in muscle mass, versus a decrease in fat levels. Adding an exercise regimen back to his daily routine will help alleviate this and bring him back to proper condition. Increasing his daily ration will help put on pounds, but will not improve his muscle tone by much. If you do increase the feed, though, stick with increasing his current ration, rather than adding another product to the mix. Aside from keeping your life a little simpler, it will be a healthier and more balanced nutritional approach than adding something like beet pulp or plain oil.
      Thank you ~ Gina T.

  9. Nancy Webster says:

    Hi,

    I have a 22 year old gedling who needed colic surgery this past summer. Our surgeon strongly urged us to feed up to a cup of oil a day, split between feedings obviously, for the rest of this horses life based on his impaction colic and subsequent sugery. He was fine with feeding vegetable or corn or a soy combo…it just needed to be oil. I do not want to use corn because of it’s inflammatory properties. Wondering if you all have any insight into what is the best oil, in large doses, for horses. I don’t mind spending the money for flax seed oil, etc…..but want to make the right choice, as the main goal for him is avoiding impaction and not weight gain or coat beauty. He is and has been, otherwise, an extremely healthy horse. He is in work consistanly throughout the year 4-6 times a week. (barring the post colic surgery recovery. He is just now coming back into work) Has good quality hay and daily turnout.

    Any ideas would be welcome. I am trying very hard to undersatnd all the nutritional considerations….but clearly this horse needs larger doses than normal, so want to pick the best oil for the job, without impacting the rest of his nutrition.

    He is currently getting Canola oil. We have also used Cocosoya.

    Thank you :-)

    Nancy

    • Gina T. says:

      Hello Nancy,
      Thank you for contacting us. We would recommend using Triple Crown Rice Bran oil, as it also contains Flax and Canola oil, and is well balanced for Omega 3/6 fatty acids. The feeding rate is 8 ounces a day for a working horse, so it is right in the guidelines with your vet.
      Good luck ~ Gina T.

  10. samantha lewis says:

    I have a 15.2hh section d. Since weather has turned colder finding it hard to keep weight on him. He has 2 feeds a day of conditioning mix and sugar beet and hay also has constant grazing in between. He has a winter turn out rug at all times and summer turnout on top for extra warmth. Not riding him at momemnt hoping not to burn more calories that he needs. Will vegetable oil help? Kept horses all my life n not had this problem before. My section a 12h pony doesn’t have this problem he’s a chunky monkey.

    • Gina T. says:

      Hello Samantha, Thank you for contacting us. All horses are different indeed – each has their own needs and requirements, much like us humans do! Free choice grazing is excellent, and you may find that increasing the hay available to your thin horse is beneficial as well, especially if your pasture goes dormant or is of poor quality in the winter time.

      Since you don’t mention the quantities you are feeding, that would be our first recommendation – take the time to actually weigh out the amount of your current feeds that you are providing him, and compare those to the recommended rates of the products. There is likely room to move up in the amount being fed – for a horse that needs to gain weight, try feeding him for one activity level higher than what he is currently at. So for example, if you are not working him right now, feed him according to the directions for a horse in light work.

      If increased feeding rates do not help after 4-6 weeks, then you may want to investigate feeding a higher fat/calorie level feed, to provide him more calories per pound of intake.

      Thank you, and good luck ~ Gina T.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

PLEASE NOTE: By clicking "POST COMMENT" above, you agree that you've read our online privacy policy.