Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Coconut for Horses?

Photo by Tom Woodward
I have long been aware of the health benefits attributed to incorporating coconut oil and other coconut products (provided they are from reputable sources) into human diets, and we always have at least one jar of coconut oil handy for cooking or for smoothies.  A few years ago, before I even started conditioning for endurance rides, I began to wonder if there were also health benefits for horses fed coconut oil.

Having to board my horse complicated any experimentation with coconut oil, though.  Feeding any kind of oil is messy, and I worried that either the barn manager wouldn't want to deal with it or that it wouldn't be consistently supplemented because it was messy.  And making up Nimo's feed myself would mean I would have to deal with the mess and be responsible for constantly bringing out pre-mixed bags of feed.  (I have since gotten over this objection, but at the time, it was a concern.)

And good quality coconut oil is expensive.  A gallon of it would cost over $100 from Tropical Traditions, which is where I get our coconut oil.  Feeding just 4 oz. a day would mean that I would go through a gallon a month plus the cost of Nimo's regular feed.

So I was delighted when I came across a product called CoolStance.  Coolstance is made from coconut oil and copra (dried coconut meal after it has been heated to extract the coconut oil).  It is specifically made for horses, and the company that makes it includes a lot of what look like legitimate scientific articles on its website.  These articles appear to support the company's claims for the nutritional benefits of its products.  However, there were three issues for me with feeding the product.  First was its availability.  No feed stores in my area carried it.  Second was its price.  The nearest location I could find it was New Country Organics in Waynesboro, Virginia.  It was too far away for me to justify driving, but shipping on a $30 bag of the feed was approximately $15, making the 44 pound bag cost about $45.  And even if I just fed 4 pounds a day, I was looking at a cost of $135 a month for feed.  Third was its palatability.  Nimo ate it, but not with any gusto, and he preferred even plain oats to the CoolStance.  So after probably about a year of feeding it, I gave it up and switched to Pennfield's Fibregized.  (I later switched to a different feed, but that is a different story...)  (Also, if anyone is interested in feeding copra-based products, you may want to check out this article published by Kentucky Equine Research on some things to be aware of.)

I still liked the idea of feeding a coconut product, though, and it has been in the back of my mind for a couple of years.  It finally occurred to me that I could try feeding shredded coconut.  Like the kind used in baking, only without any added sugar.  Theoretically, it should provide many of the same benefits of coconut oil, but without the mess and the expense.  The same company that I order coconut oil from also sells dried coconut products that are labeled as organic and glyphosate tested.  Regardless of whether I order shredded coconut, coconut flakes, or coconut chips, the price is $8.50 for a 2.2 pound bag, which seems really reasonable for a supplement that I would be feeding in small amounts.  So I decided to give it a try about 6 weeks ago.

The biggest change I noticed in Nimo within just a couple of weeks of starting to feed the dried coconut was that his coat got incredibly shiny.  (He also tried to break out of his stall to get to the feed before it got to him, so I'm guessing he liked the taste!)  You might say that was just due to the fat in the coconut, and I don't have a way of disproving that argument.  However, I have done fat supplementation before with ground flax seed, chia seeds, and general supplements that have Omega-3 added, and I have never noticed such a drastic change so quickly.  It wasn't that Nimo's coat was dull before I started feeding the dried coconut, but it really wasn't at its best.  And it hasn't been for quite awhile, if I'm honest about it, but I didn't realize how less-than-optimal that it was until I saw the change. 

I am planning to test Nimo's hay this winter (I wanted to last winter, but the cost of buying the core driller for sampling was a bit too much), so I can identify any potential nutritional deficiencies.  However, I did have his blood tested this spring (and have always done a blood test periodically his whole life), and no issues showed up (which doesn't mean there isn't a problem, just that what the test covered didn't show deficiencies).  I will say that I don't think the quality of forage at the boarding stable he is at is appropriate for performance horses, but I rarely see hay or grass that I am happy with, so that opinion isn't meant to be a specific criticism of the barn.  It's just the reality in this area that fields are typically overstocked and poorly managed (partly due to ignorance about pasture management and partly due to high land costs) and really awesome hay is incredibly expensive.  I do supplement with my own hay in small amounts, but depending on the results of the hay test this winter, I may make additional changes.

Anyway, back to the coconut.  Other than the shiny coat, I can't say that I've seen any other benefits.  Nimo had been on the coconut for maybe 3 weeks before the OD ride and his energy level didn't seem different than normal.  And three weeks after the ride, I still haven't noticed any other changes that I could attribute to the dried coconut.  However, the improvement in his coat leads me to believe that the supplement is helping him in some way, so I plan to continue using it unless I find information that suggests it is no longer a good idea.

In terms of the amount, I've been putting about 1/4 cup in both morning and evening feeds for a total of a 1/2 cup a day.  I don't have a basis for choosing that amount, other than that it seemed like an amount significant enough to have an impact, but not so much as to be costing me an arm and a leg.  With that amount, I think a 2.2 pound bag is lasting about 3 weeks, but I admit that I haven't tracked it that specifically, and I also have a three-year old who is my assistant, so it's possible that we are not super accurate with the amount:)  But at $8.50 a bag (plus shipping), I am pretty happy with the cost of this supplement, and it's possible that I could even reduce the amount a little now.

So this is my pretty unscientific, anecdotal experience with using dried coconut as a feed supplement.  If I do see additional benefits that I think are reasonably attributable to the dried coconut, I will post about them in the future, though.

Note:  All of the links in this post are for products I have used and the sources from which I have purchased them.  I receive no financial (or other) compensation from any of these companies (who probably don't know me from Adam), and I paid full retail price for all of the products.  I do encourage you to do your own research before purchasing a supplement or feed for your horse to make sure that the product is something that you are comfortable feeding.


  1. I added Omega Max (flaxseed) to Ashkes bucket two years ago when he wasn't shedding out well. His coat has been really good ever since. He gets soft and slick during the summer and has no issues shedding.

    A couple at the barn with Friesans use the coconut oil topically - for manes and tails, dry patches on there coats, etc. it's seems to work for them. I stay away from coconut because allergic.

    1. I've used coconut oil with essential herbs on my hair before shampooing and my hair seemed to grow faster, so I can see how using it on Friesians might work well:)

      That sucks that you're allergic, Karen. But luckily there are other options like what you found for Ashke:)

    2. Oils...I meant essential oils not essential herbs. Still waking up I guess:)

  2. Interesting observations about coconut. For whatever it is worth, I started my horses on the California Trace vitamin/mineral supplements after they were recommended by Pete Ramey. As you know I'm an avid barefoot person and I was fortunate to get to attend a day long, hands-on trimming workshop with Pete along with my horse. One of the major topics of the day was the role of certain micronutrients in creating and maintaining healthy hooves, and Pete's observations from the field that supplementing certain nutrients (or rather ensuring that minimum requirements) made a major difference in several aspects of hoof form, function, and general health. He recommended California Trace minerals one of the few commercially available supplements that provide those minerals. ANYWAY, finally getting to the point, aside from the effects to the hooves, I was drop-dead flabbergasted at the difference in the appearance of my horses' coats (color and quality) after supplementing with California Trace. Wow! Deeper colors and just glowing coats. Other people noticed it as well and were asking what we fed our horses. Bottom line- yes, California Trace is a good product but the real story is how our horses can be lacking crucial nutrients despite our best efforts to feed. Makes sense: they evolved as generalist herbivores whose diets changed depending on time of year and they roamed far and wide daily and seasonally to eat. Now domesticated, they mostly eat hay comprised of mostly a single ingredient and are supplemented with a narrow range of vitamins and minerals depending on what we are able and willing to provide. The coconut must have contained something he was lacking for sure. Final comment: age and poor care have certainly taken their toll on my hair! Maybe I should check into coconut as well! :-)

    1. I totally agree with you about how important nutrition is for hoof health, Jo. I've spent so much time researching nutritional needs of horses, but I still feel like I've only skimmed the surface. And there are so many products available that it is just a crapshoot finding one that works for your horse. I have had pretty good results with using Daily Red, which is just Redmond salt ground up. I had been supplementing with a premium Himalayan salt for Nimo and I just couldn't stomach the cost after several months, so I looked into Redmond salt and gave it a try. It wasn't long before I noticed an improvement in Nimo's coat and improved feed conversion.

      The problem is that I'm constantly dealing with lower quality forage and the barn feeding only one kind of hay and seeding only one type of grass. There is only so much salt with trace minerals can do. So I'm constantly looking for real food type supplements that are reasonably-priced and will yield a real benefit. And I'm doing the best I can to provide at least small amounts of fresh grass, fruit/veggies, and different hay grown in a different part of the country to provide some nutritional variety. But for endurance, I think I really need to up my game.

      I think you're right that the coconut must be helping in some way - it certainly has good nutrients in it:) And yes, check into coconut for you. My daughter literally just eats spoonfuls of coconut oil several days a week at her request and she's a pretty robust and healthy kid:) I use a quarter cup of melted coconut oil mixed with a drop of rosemary, a drop of tea tree, and a drop of frankincense essential oils from Mountain Rose Herbs for my hair. It actually helps it grow faster - so fast that I stopped using it as much because my gray roots were showing too fast!:)