Picture it, you’re walking through your local feed store or tack shop. You’re looking through the number of omega horse supplements available. All of the labels promise soundness, healthy coats, shine, and ulcers be gone! Meanwhile, all you care about is that your horse is nutritionally balanced. Right in front of you, is an entire wall of shelves from powdered to oil horse supplements promising you the health of your horse. Saying it will never be the same after you give this one product a try. Acronyms and words that you probably couldn’t pronounce without a Ph.D. from Harvard flood the tags. One of the trickiest of them all is the family of Omegas. We all know the Omegas are an important component in a horse supplement, but short of spending hours reading each tag for every ounce of information with a Google search bar in hand, how are you to decide at that moment, standing in the aisle of marketing hell, which is the best option for your horse?
Don’t worry, we’re here to break down for you the importance of Omegas without needing that Ph.D. We’re also going to talk about why it’s essential to understand the importance of Omega-3, and just why it is the main one to focus on when looking at your horse’s nutritional health.
“One of the most important pros of Omega-3 is that it is an anti-inflammatory agent.”
What is Omega-3?
The omega-3 fatty acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid characterized by a double bond on the third carbon atom in the long chain of carbon and hydrogen atoms. Omega-3 fatty acids are generally sourced from marine life, specifically, freshwater fish, salmon, mackerel, and herring. Marine sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are best known for their abundance of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). In recent years, it is becoming more abundant to see people looking into a more plant-based source to supplement themselves and their animals for Omega-3 fatty acids. Plants such as flax seed and, you guessed it, Camelina sativa (camelina oil) have some of the highest concentrations of Omega-3 through alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). It is important to note that dietary fats act as vessels for fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. These vitamins along with Omega-3 (ALA) and Omega-6 (LA) the horses’ body cannot produce alone.
What is Omega-6?
The omega-6 fatty acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid characterized by a double bond on the sixth carbon atom in the long chain of carbon and hydrogen atoms. Omega-6 fatty acids are abundant in linolenic acid (LA) and are generally sourced from corn, vegetable, sunflower, and camelina oils.
So, why 3 over 6?
Way back in the olden days when horses roamed the plains free of a person trying to put a saddle on his back and ride him into war, turn around a barrel, slide to a stop, piaffe or jump sticks; horses spent their days migrating and grazing their days away. As the years moved on and we domesticated horses, people had to find ways to supplement their food sources. This is the time in history when grain rations and cut hay start to develop. Grain rations alone are consistently high in Omega-6. Meanwhile, cut and stored hay loses nutritional value faster than most people think; vitamins A and E are the two main nutrients to hit the road during the curing process of hay.
Still, wondering where Omega-3 is going to come into play in this newfound way of managing a horse’s nutrient intake? The main sources of Omega-3 for horses have always come from fresh grazing. This is the natural form of forage designed for them to eat almost 24/7. When looking at nutritional value in this manner, it’s easy to see where the loss of Omega-3 in a horse’s diet is stemming from, especially when the majority of performance horses are on limited turnout and just a few hours of grazing. In layman’s terms, Omega-6 had initially been at a lower ratio compared to Omega-3 when horses simply foraged all day.
Grains & Supplements
Now we know that grains are already high in Omega-6, which prompts the question of how do we balance the Omega-3? Although there has been limited research into the exact ideal ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 in horses, it is obvious that there has been an offset of this balance for many years. By supplementing your horse with a plant-based Omega-3 supplement, such as ExcelEQ™ or ExcelEQ ProElite™, there will be some significant changes that you will notice within your horses. A plant-based Omega-3 supplement is better recommended for horses especially because ALA is more natural to the fatty acids a horse would ingest on its own in the wild; whereas, a marine Omega-3 supplement, such as fish oil, filled with EPA and DHA are fatty acids a horse generally would not come into contact with on its own.
Pros of Omega-3
One of the most important pros of Omega-3 is that it is an anti-inflammatory agent, whereas Omega-6 is considered a pro-inflammatory agent. Especially when it comes to performance horses, any help we can give to them that weighs heavily on anti-inflammatory properties without the use of a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID) is wildly beneficial. Omega-3 has been lightly studied to see benefits of anti-inflammatory properties inside the joints. In the study, it was shown that the supplementation of Omega-3 helped the production of healthier synovial fluid; which in turn, gave way to better elasticity in the joints. The bloodwork also showed the inflammatory response in the horses supplemented with Omega-3 was significantly lower than those that we not supplemented.