What are the benefits of adding fat to the diet of a performance horse?
The main benefit of adding fat to the diet is increased energy intake. Dietary fat is energy dense, containing 2.25 times as many calories, on an equal weight basis, as carbohydrate or protein. Therefore, fat is an efficient way of adding calories to the diet without increasing grain intake. This is particularly helpful for performance horses that may have difficulty eating enough feed to maintain body weight.
Another advantage of dietary fat is that its digestion does not increase blood sugar. Many performance horses seem to have behavioral problems associated with high-carbohydrate (grain) diets. Because digestion and absorption of grain produce large amounts of blood glucose, many people believe these fluctuations in blood sugar may be responsible for the behavioral changes. Blood glucose does not change with the digestion of fat, yet the horses receive the calories required for exercise.
Dietary fat is a safe energy source. For example, if fed too much concentrate in a single meal or during the course of a day, a horse can suffer from grain overload. This occurs when a horse is not able to properly digest the large volume of grain in the small intestine and the grain is fermented by bacteria in the hindgut. Unfortunately, rapid fermentation of grain in the hindgut can lead to digestive upset (colic) and laminitis (founder). Replacing some of the calories that would normally come from grain with fat decreases the chances of grain overload and adds a margin of safety to high-calorie diets.