Linseed oil is a more beneficial source of energy than cereal feeds as it is easier to digest and so less likely to cause gut disturbance. Horses that are in hard work and animals which have a poor appetite, compromised digestion or who are poor doers, can also struggle to consume or gain sufficient benefit from large cereal based feeds. However, a diet enriched with linseed oil can help to manage their nutrition effectively.
Put simply, the horse’s digestive system can extract energy from linseed oil more easily than it can from cereals. Oil is also a great option for horses which are prone to laminitis, tying-up, colic, Sweet-Itch and other skin conditions. In addition, scientific studies have suggested that linseed oil can improve joint conditions.
Linseed oil is high in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Horse cannot make these fatty acids themselves and so they must obtain them through their diet. Horses are often already high in omega 6 as they can get this from grains, but their diets are generally low in omega 3 fatty acids. These are important building blocks for the hormones which control the immune function, blood clotting, and cell growth together with cell membranes and can also affect skin and coat condition.
In humans, diets have tended to show a decrease in omega 3 fatty acids and this tendency has been linked to the rise in heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases and neurodegenerative conditions. An imbalance in omega 3 and omega 6 may also be a contributory factor in obesity and hyperactivity. All of these issues have been linked to inflammation in the body. The correct balance of omega 3 and omega 6 reduces cell inflammation.
A good balance of omega 3 and omega 6 in a horse’s body could clearly offer many health benefits including reducing the incidence or severity of inflammatory skin conditions. Of the oils which are commonly fed to horses, linseed is the highest in omega 3 and lowest in omega 6 and so offers the greatest potential for balancing an animal’s nutrition due to the omega 6 gained from cereals.
In summary, linseed oil could offer significant benefits for horses prone to skin conditions, laminitis, colic and joint problems. Chose a linseed oil that has not been heat processed, as heat treatment destroys many of the nutrients in the oil. Introduce the oil slowly over a period of two weeks whilst reducing the cereal feed. Then store the oil in a cool, dark place to prevent it from turning rancid.