Supplementing Omega 3: How and Why

Are you hearing more about the Omegas lately?  They seem to be a hot topic in the horse world these days.  We have even added a new product from British Horse Feeds, Cooked Linseed, to our line-up.  Cooked Linseed is an ideal source of Omega 3 for all horses.  So, let’s talk about the Omegas and why a supplement rich in Omega 3 should be added to your feed regimen.

What are Omega 3 and Omega 6?

Omega 3 and Omega 6 are plant based fats.  They are the only forms of fat that the horse’s body cannot produce and must be provided in their diet.  The most common sources for supplementing Omega 3 for horses are flaxseed meal, vegetable oil and fish oil.  The most common source of Omega 6 for horses is grain.

What do the Omegas do?

Omega 3 and Omega 6 are carriers of vitamins A, D, E and K.  They also work together for immune function and structure of cell membranes.  Omega 3, found in pasture, promotes an anti-inflammatory response in order to decrease inflammation, stiffness and joint pain while Omega 6 promotes an inflammatory response.  Inflammation is a natural result of high intensity exercise and is the signal for the immune system to kick on and heal and repair the body.  Both Omega 6 and Omega 3 are necessary to support inflammatory responses in the body as well as maintain cell membrane stability, function of the central nervous system tissue and support oxygen transfer and immune functions.  When the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is off, the risk of disease and damage drastically increases, as it results in the body having constant inflammation.  Almost all health issues are linked to inflammation including cell damage, longer healing times, disease and damage to tissue and organs.

What is the ideal amount of Omega 3 and Omega 6?

The target ratio is 1:3 to 1:6, Omega 6: Omega 3.  Since the body doesn’t produce Omega 3 or Omega 6, we look to diet to supply them.  When we look at the typical diet for a domesticated horse, the ratios aren’t great.  Today’s horse’s diet is much higher in Omega 6 than Omega 3 while a natural foraging diet is the reverse, with 4 times more Omega 3 than Omega 6.  Grain, corn, oats and barley contain large amounts of Omega 6.

Omega 6Omega 3
Ideal ratio13-6


As we know, competition horses are often given more grain for energy but they are the ones who need more Omega 3 the most, to help their body recover from strenuous exercise.  Horses on high grain diets need to have a supplement high in Omega 3 added to their diet.

Is your horse deficient in fatty acids?

If your horse is only fed hay and grain it is almost a definite that he is deficient in Omega 3. 

It can present as:

Dry, flaky skin

Dull coat

Hair loss

Tendency for allergies

General unhappiness

Skin, joint, hoof issues



Difficulty keeping weight on


What’s the best way to supplement Omega 3?

Many people look to vegetable oil, corn oil, rice bran, fish oil or flaxseed meal to supplement their horse’s diet.  While all contain the essential fatty acids, they don’t all measure up the same.  Often they are added to a horse’s diet not only for the fatty acids but also for additional calories for weight gain, shiny coat and digestible energy.  Vegetable oil (2:1), corn oil (53:1) and rice bran (19:1) all contain more Omega 6 than Omega 3 so they are not the ideal supplement for horses on high grain diets.  Fish oil ratios vary greatly depending on the type of fish and what the fish has consumed.  While fish oil is a better source of Omega 3 than those listed above, it does not include Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) which is one of the 3 major Omega 3 fatty acids.  Fish oil does contain Docosahexaeonoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), the other two major Omega 3 fatty acids.  Flax contains Alpha Nucleic Acid which the body can convert to DHA and EPA.  Flax also has a ratio of 1:4, which is within the ideal range.

So that leads us to flax as the best source of Omega 3.  Not only does flax have the ideal ratio, it is also the most concentrated plant source of Omega 3.  Flax is a plant, like horses are meant to eat!  It will help rebalance fatty acids similar to a natural, grazing diet.  This is especially important for competition horses that are travelling with little to no turn out and intensive work.  It is also important for the carb sensitive horse on a low sugar/low starch diet and restricted turnout as flax provides calories and fuel for muscles as well.

Nutritionally flax and linseed are the same.  The difference is in the plant in that linseed is shorter with lots of branches and seeds making it good for oil.  Flax is taller with fewer branches and is often used to make linen and rope.  Cooked Linseed by British Horse Feeds is an excellent source of Omega 3, 6, and 9, contains high levels of quality proteins and amino acids and is rich in fiber.  It provides slow release energy and supports hind gut fermentation.  Cooking the linseed has made it more bioavailable to support overall digestibility and absorption of nutrients.  Cooked Linseed contains natural antioxidants, helps maintain a healthy shiny coat and is non GMO as well.  All these benefits along with helping to balance the Omega 3: Omega 6 ratio!


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