Flaxseed, hemp, fish oil

Trending in the equine nutrition world are the words ‘Essential Fatty Acids” so what are they?  Do I need to add these to my horse’s diet?

We hear a lot about the three Omega 3 fatty acids Alpha Linolenic (ALA), Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).  But did you know there are many more?

Mammals are unable to synthesize omega-3 fatty acids.  Supplement feeding has taken popularity with the plant based omega 3 ALA found in Flaxseed, but only a small amount as low as 5% is actually converted into the necessary EPA and DHA. Fish oil (Cod Liver Oil) & Hemp Seed Oil on the other hand provides pre-formed ready to be utilised EPA and DHA Omega 3s in the right ratio.



Surprisingly for some, Pasture grass naturally offers a ratio of 1:4 (Omega6:Omega3) it simply can’t be beaten as the best source for your horse.  When pasture is unavailable, then it is recommended by Kentucky Equine Research to supplement 60 ml/day of fish oil. (Pagan, Lawrence, Lennox)

Omega 3 Fatty Acids:

Alpha linolenic acid – ALA

Eicosapentaenoic acid – EPA

Docosahexaenoic acid – DHA

Hexadecatrienoic acid- HTA

Stearidonic acid – SDA

Eicosatrienoic acid – ETE

Eicosatetraenoic acid – ETA

Heneicosapentaenoic acid – HPA

Docosapentaenoic acid – DPA

Tetracosapentaenoic acid

Tetracosahexaenoic acid

We hear about the excesses of omega 6 fatty acids in the diet.  High proportions of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fat in the diet shifts the physiological state in the tissues toward pathogenesis of many diseases. Omega 6 increase inflammation.

Animal feeds high in Omega 6 throw the correct dietary ratio out of balance.  Feeds that are proportionately too high in Omega 6 to Omega 3 are vegetable oils (soybean, cotton seed, sunflower seed, corn, grapeseed, rice bran, peanut, sesame oils) Corn oil for example has an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of about 45:1!  Caution too with seeds like sunflower, sesame & pumpkin along with grains including corn, oats, wheat, quinoa and rice, not to be missed are legumes like soybean and peanuts that are very high in the Omega 6 fatty acids.


Omega 6 Fatty Acids:

Linoleic acid (LA)

Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)

Calendic acid

Eicosadienoic acid

Dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA)

Arachidonic acid (AA)

Docosadienoic acid

Adrenic acid

Docosapentaenoic acid

Tetracosatetraenoic acid

Tetracosapentaenoic acid

Fortifying your horse’s diet with an omega 3 of at least 2-5 to 1 of omega 6 provides key health benefits.  A healthy diet low in Omega 6 and high in Omega 3 (being naturally anti-inflammatory) can help reduce allergy symptoms.  Research indicates these additional health benefits of increased Omega 3 uptake:

  • Improved skin and hair coat quality
  • Decreased joint pain
  • Improved bone formation
  • Reproductive benefits
  • Prevention of gastric ulcers
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Alleviate allergic hyperactivity
  • Support horses in heavy work
  • Reduce exercise-induced bronchiole constriction

References of interest:

Semen motility: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0093691X0400247X

Heart disease and ovulation rate: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0952327899901011

Hair growth, quality and shine:


Pain and ulcers:


Anti Inflammatory:


Bone/joint disease:


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