Horse owners have relied on corn oil for years to give their horses a little extra shine in their coats, and as a fat source to give them more fuel to burn. However, advances in equine nutrition research may mean discarding or altering traditional practices in favor of better oil alternatives for your horse.
Benefits of Corn Oil
When you add corn oil to your horse’s diet, you are providing him with more fat and energy without a corresponding increase in excitability. In fact, the addition of fat can have a calming affect on your horse. It also gives him more calories without adding more grain. Corn oil is easy to digest once your horse gets used to it, and tempers dust and loose particles that can irritate your horse, particularly if he has respiratory problems. It is also great for coats and hooves. Corn oil gives your horse essential fatty acids, mostly Omega-6 with some Omega-3, which he needs to help absorb certain vitamins.
Drawbacks of Corn Oil
The biggest risk of corn oil is that it can be too much of a good thing. Since it has a far higher Omega-6 content than Omega-3, the imbalance between the two can create inflammation in your horse’s tissues, and be bad for his cardiovascular system. Also, you need to add corn oil to your horse’s diet slowly, giving him 7 to 10 days to adjust to it. Horses like the taste, but adding it too quickly -- or too much -- can lead to loose stools, bloating and gas. It also can impede his ability to absorb nutrients properly. A horse can typically tolerate 1 to 16 ounces per day.
In addition to corn oil, you have a lot of oil options to try for your horse. He’s bound to like the taste of some better than others. Researchers at Virginia Polytechnic and State University tested 15 oil types on horses for taste; corn oil came in on top, with tallow at the bottom. Soybean oil was in the middle. Other oils include sunflower, canola, olive, coconut, peanut, rapeseed, safflower, wheat germ, fish, hempseed, cottonseed and flax – or linseed – oil.
Essential Fatty Acid Sources
If your horse primarily eats hay and grain, he is likely getting an imbalance of Omega-6 compared to Omega-3 even without added corn oil. Adding an oil higher in Omega-3 can aide this imbalance. Fish oil, flaxseed oil and hempseed oil are all excellent sources of the Omega-3 essential fatty acid. All other oil types are higher in Omega-6 than Omega-3. If he is just on a fresh forage diet such as pasture grass, he is getting more Omega-3 from that source. Since this diminishes in the winter, consider an Omega-3 supplement during those months.
- Kentucky Equine Research: Corn Oil in Equine Diets
- University of Edinburgh, Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies: Use of Hemp Oil and Hemp Ingredients in Equine Diets
- Kentucky Equine Research: Feeding Fat for a Calmer Horse
- Kentucky Equine Research: Answer Exchange
- Kentucky Equine Research: Omega-9 Fatty Acids for Horses
- Equisearch: Feeding Horses Fats and Oils
- Kentucky Equine Research: Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation for Athletic Horses
Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.