You’ve been at it all year with your horse. You have trained hard with your trusty steed, cleaned countless pieces of tack, packed and repacked, trailered to shows and lived out of hotels, and hopefully, racked up some ribbons and trophies. You may now see the light at the end of the tunnel for the 2016 show year. Yet this is the time to make everything count as you vie for end-of-the-year honors.
Countless riders are now getting ready for the final events of the season — breed championships, dressage regional championships and the US Dressage Finals, fall horse trials and three-day events, pony club events, and various winter dressage and hunter/jumper events in Wellington, FL, and other warmer locales.
However, problems may start to creep in as riders try to keep their horses in optimum health for these events, particularly when traveling to different venues and maintaining a rigorous showing and training schedule.
Providing a Healthy Energy Source
Show horses are often fed different forage sources if the owner or trainer has to purchase hay from competition venues, and there is little to no access to turnout with free-choice grazing. Show horse’s muscles and joints not only work hard during competition, but they work hard during trailering. And energy may start to dip as the competition horse gets tired from the rigors of showing. In addition, ulcers are known to be a problem with many show horses.
With these difficulties, it’s important that a horse gets an extra boost of energy in his diet so that he can maintain the energy needed to train, show, and be trailered to different places. In order to feed additional calories, many turn to fortifying a diet with fat sources. While corn oil is popular with many horse owners, the additional omega-6 fatty acids in corn oil can be problematic since it can increase inflammation in a horse’s body. This is the exact opposite of what is needed for any horse, especially one that is showing.
Fish oil makes a good calorically dense and natural source of energy, and it could give your horse the boost he needs to keep showing and maintain optimal health. Fish oil delivers more energy than corn oil, providing the horse with 270 Kcal/ounce. And the best part is that fish oil comes with a lot of additional benefits due to the healthy omega-3 fatty acids it contains.
Considering the Omega-3 Source
When discussing omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for horses, it’s important to understand that the omega-3s are a family of molecules, each known by a different acronym. Fish oil provides long-chain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), as well as small amounts of short-chain alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and several other types of omega-3. The majority of scientific research has focused on the role of EPA and DHA as the two main actors in helping curb inflammation and promoting brain health. The shorter-chained ALA, on the other hand, has to be converted into the EPA and DHA in order to deliver benefits.
Keep in mind that supplementation with flax oil and other natural plant-sources only provides ALA, and not EPA or DHA. Because of the low ALA to EPA and DHA conversion rate, it could take up to six CUPS of flax oil to equal the results of one OUNCE of a quality fish oil. An algal omega-3 supplement does provide DHA and can provide health benefits. However, with fish oil you get DHA, EPA, and ALA combined.
The Benefits of EPA and DHA from Fish Oil
Another reason to supplement with a product that provides plentiful amounts of EPA and DHA is because clinical studies show that these types of omega-3s can help reduce the activity of cartilage-damaging enzymes and inflammatory mediators. These damaging enzymes and inflammatory enzymes may be produced if a diet is imbalanced in the omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, as is often the case with horses eating a high-grain diet. EPA has been shown in humans to help support joint health, reducing the destruction of cartilage from wear and tear on the joints as it eases inflammation and pain.
In addition, fish oil has been shown to reduce the need for NSAIDS when the diet is supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids. Obviously, many NSAIDs aren’t able to be used within a certain timeframe before and also during a competition since they are prohibited by many regulatory bodies. By providing a fish oil product, you can help your horse reduce inflammation and the resulting pain similar to how NSAIDs may help.
Finally, it’s known that the way competition horses are managed (stall confinement, high-grain diets, no access to turnout, etc.) and the stress of competition can lead to ulcers. Research in the United States and abroad has shown that omega-3 may help prevent ulcers by modulating hydrochloric acid secretion, increasing bicarbonate and mucus production in the stomach, and aiding in blood flow in the stomach mucosa where ulcers tend to proliferate in horses. Omega-3 supplementation has also been shown to help heal ulcers.
With all of the challenges that competition presents to our horses, it’s almost a must that a competition horse consume an omega-3 supplement high in EPA and DHA. If your competition horse isn’t on a fresh, high-quality fish oil supplement, it’s never too late in the year to start. It could give your horse that extra boost of energy and health benefits he needs to win those end-of-year championships.