If there was a nutritional buzzword that was started in the ’90s, it was fat. We fitness-conscious (and frequently overweight) North Americans still might not fully understand the differences between “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol, but we all know how to count our fat grams! While we struggle to keep our diets as low-fat as possible, fat has a different focus when it comes to our horses because it’s only in recent years that we’ve recognized the value of raising the fat level in an equine athlete’s diet.
Of course, the average human diet (at least in North America) contains well over that recommended 30 grams of fat per day that nutritionists enthusiastically endorse. The horse’s natural diet, in contrast, contains almost no natural fat at all. Forages and fibers contribute none, and most grains fed to horses only contain between 2% and 3.5% fat overall. While this leaves the horse at low risk for cardiovascular clogging, it does mean that, traditionally, carbohydrates have been considered the obvious and “natural” energy source for performance horses, and fat rarely has been considered, beyond that little splash of corn oil that’s considered good for a shiny coat. Only in the last couple of decades have we begun to realize that fat is also a valuable energy source–and one with many advantages.
Why Feed Fat?
High-fat diets (anything over and above the 2% to 3.5% supplied by a standard grain-plus-forage diet) provide several perks, most notably in terms of energy production for high-level equine performance. Pound for pound, fat supplies almost 2 1/2 times as much energy as the equivalent weight of carbohydrates or starches (traditionally supplied by grains such as oats, corn, or barley). So, if you want to supply more energy to your horse without increasing his overall feed intake, supplementing the fat in his diet can be an exc