The Truth About Feeding Horses Corn Oil

My horse has a dull coat and could stand to gain some weight, so my trainer suggested adding corn oil to his grain, for extra fat. But I’ve read recently that corn oil actually isn’t that good for horses – is that true?  I’m confused! Thanks for your help, JR, Maine


Dear JR,

Adding fat to your horse’s diet is a great way to add calories for weight gain and essential fatty acids to improve the coat.  But you’re correct that using corn oil isn’t the right way to go about it.  In fact, you might be doing more harm than good!

That’s because all fats are not created equal.  Corn oil contains almost all Omega 6 fatty acids—generally pro-inflammatory—and very little of the anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fatty acids that have so many health benefits.  While our bodies need both types, keeping the proper balance between the two is important.  For horses, experts feel that a ratio somewhere in the range of one part Omega 6 to two parts Omega 3 (a 1:2 ratio) or even a 1:4 ratio is ideal.  However, our methods of modern horse keeping have shifted the balance by restricting access to Omega 3-rich fresh grass while providing feed high in Omega 6 fatty acids such as grain-based concentrates. 

To help you better understand where these two types of essential fatty acids come from and how the balance easily becomes skewed towards the pro-inflammatory Omega 6 side, here’s a chart of the Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratios in some common horse feeds:

Feed Omega 6:Omega 3
Pasture 1:5, good
Commercial, fortified grain 8:1
Whole grains: oats, corn, barley, wheat, rice 24:1
Vegetable oils: corn, sunflower 87:1, 199:1!
Vegetable oils: canola, soybean 3:1, 7:1
Flax seed 1:4, good
Fish oil (includes the specific Omega 3s EPA & DHA) Virtually all Omega3!

In a perfect world, we’d all keep our horses turned out on green grass for its benefits to the body as well as the mind!  But since that’s not realistic for most people, just try to feed as little grain and grain oil as possible to avoid filling your horse with pro-inflammatory Omega 6 fatty acids—instead use a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement or ration balancer to fill any nutritional gaps from your forage.  Then if you want to add fat for extra calories or a shiny coat, use flax seed or fish oil and fill your horse with healthy, anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fatty acids!