Some horseman have begun using camelina oil in the diets of horses to provide omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to convey numerous health benefits.

Are you mystified by omegas and how they fit into an equine diet? Wild Gold nutrition advisors are here to help.

“With the average equine diet tending to be higher in omega-6s, finding ways to balance out the omegas by adding some omega-3s has spurred the special interest in camelina oil,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., an equine nutritionist at Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

Extracted from Camelina sativa, the oilseed is native to parts of Europe and Asia, but it is now cultivated primarily in cold, semiarid regions of the United States, Canada, Slovenia, and Italy, though relatively few acres of land are devoted to its production when compared to other crops. The plant is colloquially called camelina, false flax, gold-of-pleasure, and sometimes wild flax.

Camelina oil is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The total amount of omega-3s in the oil is approximately 39%, whereas the total amount of omega-6s is about 18%, creating a ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s of about 2:1. About 38% of omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which must be converted to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) for optimal benefit by the horse.

In addition to its rich omega-3 content, camelina oil also possesses antioxidant properties. “Perhaps the allure of camelina oil is that it is cold-pressed, which means it undergoes very minimal processing, so it retains naturally high levels of gamma-tocopherol, a form of vitamin E, which makes it a stable oil,” Crandell noted.

Flax oil maintains an edge over camelina oil in omega-3 and omega-6 nutrition. With a 54% omega-3 concentration, with ALA as the predominant source, flax oil reigns supreme. In terms of the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, flax oil again comes out on top with a ratio of 4:1.

By and large, however, nothing compares to fish oil for omega-3 nutrition. Two qualities of fish oil make it the go-to source for omega-3s. First, the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is 12:1, which means it soundly outperforms other oils in this key area. Second, fish oil provides a direct source of EPA and DHA, and does not depend on the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA. Scientists know the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is inefficient, and an immediate source of fatty acids is preferable.

With fish oil trumping key indexes, what oils should horsemen avoid if they’re trying to increase omega-3 nutrition? “While soy oil, rice bran oil, and corn oil all have a place in the diets of horses and can be used to bump up calorie consumption and boost coat health, they add few omega-3s to a ration,” said Crandell.

Nutritionists at KER developed EO•3 to overcome inadequacies in omega-3 nutrition. Made from cold-species fish, EO•3 is a palatable liquid supplement that helps mediate everyday inflammatory responses, improves glucose tolerance, strengthens immunity, and enhances bone metabolism and development. Reproductive benefits of both mares and stallions have also been documented.

Are you mystified by omegas and how they fit into an equine diet? Wild Gold nutrition advisors are here to help.