Guide to Fats in the Equine Diet: Importance, Figuring Out Requirements, & Supplementation

by Jenna Tranter on April 12, 2022

Guide to Fats in the Equine Diet: Importance, Figuring Out Requirements, & Supplementation

Written by: Jenna Tranter

Published on: 04/12/2022

We started unpacking the information on your horse’s feed tag and this week we are going to dive a little deeper into fat content and why fats are an important part of the equine diet. A fat horse is as unhealthy as an underweight horse but what role does fat as a whole play in the equine diet? How important is fat in their daily ration? Do they need a fat source? Let's take a look at fat and why your horse does need some form of fat in their daily diet.

Why Fat’s Are Important

Fat should make up 2-3% of a horse's daily diet. Fat is an extremely important, safe and efficient energy source for performance horses- without fat in their diet they just will not have the energy to do the job for you. The equine digestive system limits the total volume of food they can intake at any time and as such often energy dense, concentrated feeds are fed. To counterbalance this often less forage is fed however forage should always be first in the equine diet. So what can we as owners do to ensure their fat needs are met without overfeeding them, without feeding them large volumes of concentrates and keeping forage first and foremost?

How to Figure Out Your Horse’s Fat Requirements

 First you will need to identify what your horse's fat requirements are. If you are going out once a week on a leisurely ride your horse will require far less fat than a horse competing in high level reining or barrels. Once you have determined what your horse’s energy output is you then will need to determine just how much total food your horse needs a day. The generally accepted standard is 1.5-3% of their body weight in a day. You will then need to determine how much of that diet should be forage, always remembering that forage should be first and readily available to your horse. Feed should be measured accurately and fed consistently to avoid digestive upset especially when it comes to feeding concentrated grain rations. Your horse’s age can also play a role in what they require- a growing young horse has drastically different requirements than a middle aged horse and a middle aged horse has different requirements than a senior. Once you have covered those steps you then will need to directly look at how much fat you are providing with that diet.

So what about Hay? Does Hay have fat?

Hay does indeed provide some fat content to the horse’s diet. Again, hay generally contains less nutrients overall than fresh pasture but fresh pasture year round is just not always geographically possible. The type of hay and varieties of grass it contains also can play a role in not only the overall nutritional quality, but also how much fat is available. Bermudagrass hay, as an example, contains significantly less fat on average than legume hay, like alfalfa. We’ve included a handy chart below for you that looks at average values in hay.

Checking Your Horse’s Feed for Fat Content

There is a wide variety of concentrated feeds available on the market for horses and availability and brand can vary depending on where you are located. All feeds should have a guaranteed analysis on the bag telling you the basics of what it contains like protein and fat. Check out our blog from last week on how to read a feed tag for some extra help deciphering what you're looking at. Once you have selected a feed that's right for your horse you may find that there is a need for additional fat or that you do not want to feed the volume of concentrate required to hit your horse's fat requirements. I choose to feed the vast majority of my own ‘easy keepers’ a ration balancer or vitamin and mineral pellet as they have good quality free choice hay at all times, and many of them do not need a large amount of concentrated feed. I do want to ensure that their vitamin and mineral needs are being met and even some of my easiest keepers do need a little bit of added fat in their diets to meet their energy outputs without unwanted loss of any body condition.

What do I do to add fat without feeding more concentrates?

There are many options available to supplement fat, in theory you could use any oil as oil is 100% fat, however many oils have an imbalance of omega 3/6 and many are hexane or expeller pressed. Smart Earth Camelina oil is a simple and effective way for me to get that fat into their diets without adding more grain or worrying about driving up the amount of omega 6’s in their diets or having to worry about hexane or other unwanted chemicals. Like other oils, camelina oil is 100% fat and provides 260kcal per Oz of oil. It packs a punch without adding more concentrated feed to the diet.

Meet Jenna Tranter

Jenna Tranter is Smart Earth Camelina Corp's equine nutritionist. She is the owner and operator of Four Corners Equestrian and has been involved in the industry for over 20 years.

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About the Author

Jenna is a lifelong equestrian and lover of all animals big and small. She has both studied and worked within the industry for 20+ years in both the feed sector as well as being a coach and hunter/jumper facility owner with time spent in the UK and Canada. She holds a number of equine certifications from universities in both countries. She also has completed numerous courses in equine body work, including equi-bow, but is not a practitioner at this time due to there just not being enough time in the day! Jenna lives on her farm in Ontario, Canada with her husband, 19 horses, 2 goats, a flock of ducks, a flock of chickens, her barn cats and her 3 loyal dogs, Bosco, Evaa & Eeyore.