Horses, like humans, need oil. But why and what sort of oil should we use for our horses?
Cell membranes of living creatures are made from oils and fats and these are known as essential fatty acids. The two major types are Omega-3 and Omega-6. For good health theses fats need to be in balance. The horse’s natural diet provides almost equal levels of Omega-3 and Omega-6.
The Omega-6 is the raw material that horses (as well as humans) metabolise into the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. In a correctly balanced diet Omega-3 is used to make the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.
Many types of horse feed and horse supplements (especially those for adding condition or weight) use vegetable oils that have high levels of Omega-6, which is in almost every vegetable oil, including sunflower, rape and corn oils. The inflammatory effect of imbalance of fatty acids can affect all parts and processes of the body. It tends to make the body’s own reaction worse. So wear and tear can result in painful arthritis and swollen joints. Allergic conditions, such as sweet itch come from the body overreacting to midge bites. Temperament can also show the effects of imbalance in excitability or nervousness. Omega-3 and its anti-inflammatory-forming prostaglandins can have a calming effect on the whole system – both mental and physical.
The horse’s body also uses Omega-3 for building new cells, so an adequate supply is essential for rapid recovery from the stress of training or injuries, and is invaluable for maintaining healthy skin with an extra shiny coat.
For horses, linseed oil contains high levels of the right sort of Omega-3 called ALA (alphalinolenic acid). It is different to the Omega-3’s found in fish and cod liver oil (which are not a natural part of a horse’s diet – horses are meant to eat grass not fish!)