Decades ago, we all fed corn oil to help give our horses a glossy, shiny coat. It was cheap, readily available, and it worked. But then it got bad press, telling us it promotes inflammation and provides empty fat calories. That made us back away because, well, who wants to feed plain fat?
As we became educated in good coat-promoting nutrients, we learned to scan supplement labels for words like “contains the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids,” especially omega-3, since they’re often lacking, especially when grass isn’t available.
Horses deficient in these omegas likely show coat, skin and hoof problems, and may battle impaired immunity and/or a greater tendency toward allergies. There’s even some evidence that omega-3s can protect cartilage from damage, which means joint health.
If your horse is on a year-round lush grass pasture, you’re in great shape. Grass contains mega omega-3s. But, if that pastured horse has brittle hooves or dry skin, it’s more likely a vitamin/mineral issue. In that case, we’d consider a good hoof supplement (see May 2009). For the rest of us, with stalled horses or pastures that decline in cold weather, we should feed omega fatty acids.
In selecting a supplement, you’ll find most products include flaxseed and/or fish oil. Both ultimately provide omega-3 and omega-6, however, we haven’t seen a study that solidly proves fish oil results in better coat/hoof health than flaxseed. In addition, fish oil tends to be more expensive than flaxseed, and some horses will refuse to eat it, even if it’s deodorized.
Therefore, flaxseed gets the nod for favorite omega source. The minimum effective dose is 20 grams of omegas/day.