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While the benefits of feeding fats and oils to horses are now widely recognised, a thorough review of the literature will show that saturated oils such as coconut oil are more effective at exerting a positive influence on the horse than the unsaturated oils.
Until now, saturated fats have only been available in the unpalatable, unpractical form of animal fat (tallow), and as a result have been virtually ignored in the diet of horses, meaning many of the benefits available from high fat diets have not been achieved. Coconut oil, a saturated tropical oil, is now available in a user friendly form.
Why Feed Fats and Oils?
Working and breeding horses held in intensive environments have energy requirements higher than that which can be satisfied with pasture or hay alone. Cereal grains, though not a part of the horses natural diet, nor well digested by the horse, have traditionally been used to meet these raised energy requirements as they were a cheap and readily available commodity. Cereal grains are known to have several negative impacts on equine health that negatively affect performance.
In contrast to cereal grains, some oils are documented as being a safe, well digested and readily utilised source of energy for horses. Oils can be used to assist in meeting the energy requirements of working and breeding horses. The use of oils reduces the reliance on cereal grains in the diet and thus reduces the negative impact grain can have on equine health. In addition to being a safer source of energy for horses, oil supplementation may impart additional benefits, including:
Are all oils equal?
Saturation, and rancidity. Not all oils are the same. Some such as soybean, maize, canola, flax seed are unsaturated, and are absorbed through the intestines, and transported slowly through the lymphatics to the liver. These oils are prone to rancidity. By comparison, the tropical oils such as coconut oil are saturated, they do not go rancid, and they are absorbed directly into the portal blood and transported directly to the liver. Further, coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCT), which have unique properties in preserving gut health.
Oil and glycogen. While all oils share similar properties when it comes to energy content, their ability to influence muscle glycogen storage in the horse appears to be affected by oil type. Scientific studies designed to investigate the effects of oil supplementation on resting muscle glycogen storage and glycogen utilisation during high intensity exercise have returned conflicting results. Studies utilising saturated animal fats have shown increases in both parameters, whilst studies utilising the unsaturated corn and soybean oils have generally shown no change or a decrease in muscle glycogen storage and utilisation. Thus it appears that in order to have a positive influence on muscle glycogen parameters, saturated fats or oils must be fed.
Saturated animal fats, whilst having a positive effect on muscle glycogen present a number of difficulties, including; they are solid at room temperature making them difficult to handle; horses generally find them unpalatable; and they may infringe 'restricted animal material' regulations in stockfeed. Thus in order to influence muscle glycogen storage capacity in the horse an alternative saturated fat must be found. Coconut oil, which contains more than 90% saturated fat, presents the horse industry with a safe, clean and palatable alternative that may provide performance benefits over and above those that can be provided by the traditionally utilised vegetable oils.
The Benefits of Coconut Oil?
Aside from presenting the horse industry with an attractive alternative to animal fat as a source of saturated fatty acids, coconut oil has other unique properties including:
Which horses is Coconut oil suitable for?
Coconut oil can be utilised for:
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