Electrolytes for horses

Electrolyte supplements are often thought to be needed only by high-level athletes, especially those competing in endurance events but in reality any horse that sweats for a prolonged period of time can deplete these vital minerals to critical levels. The consequences in severe cases can range from fatigue and muscle tremors to potentially deadly heat stress and physiological exhaustion.

Forages and commercial feeds are high in electrolytes and the majority of horses are able to easily replenish their routine losses through their regular diets plus access to a mineralized salt block.In situations where a horse continues sweating for several hours, he may need the added boost of supplemental electrolyte powders, paste or gels to speed his return to normal.

                       

During exercise, contracting skeletal muscle cells generate large amounts of heat.Horses have several ways to dissipate heat but the most important is evaporation of water (in sweat) from the skin. In moderate environmental conditions an average 600 kg horse can lose 6-7 litres of sweat per hour. In hot, humid condition fluid losses can reach the 15 litres mark for each hour the horse is exercising. Without fluid and electrolyte replacement, horses become dehydrated. A dehydrated horse is unable to effectively thermoregulate (maintain a normal body temperature) and is at risk for developing serious fluid and electrolyte imbalances.These imbalances can result in a variety of performance-hindering health issues, including muscle cramps or tying up (exertional myopathy), fatigue (including thumps) and potentially life threatening exhaustion. Exercising horses, particularly endurance horses could benefit from oral supplementation of electrolytes to replace/restore fluid and electrolyte levels and stimulate drinking.

Assessing electrolyte needs

All horses, regardless of performance levels, require a daily sodium supplement. Horses can not obtain enough sodium to meet their daily needs from forage or grain. Sodium can be delivered by offering a salt block or by top-dressing grain with table salt or a commercial salt preparation.Athletic horses participating in prolonged exercise are the class most in need of electrolyte supplementation. Endurance and competitive trail riding horses experience the greatest loss of fluids and electrolytes within the first 20 kilometres of exercise. It is therefore important to supplement early in the event and avoid dehydration.

The exact electrolyte needs of each horse will vary depending on
 - Weather conditions (e.g. temperature , humidity)
 - Fitness of your horse
 - Effort of the exercise demand based on terrain and speed
 - Duration of the event, the length of the course and the number of consecutive days ridden
 - How well the horse drinks
 - Number of rest stops allowed for eating and drinking
 - Condition of the horse following transport to the event

Types of electrolytes

- Pastes are delivered directly into the mouth via syringe and these provide quick relief and are convenient to use on the move, without the need for water or grain. Plus, they pack easy in saddlebags.
- Dissolvable electrolytes ; they are a safe and easy way to make sure a horse always has access to extra electrolytes. “The single biggest thing people can do at home in regards to electrolytes is to provide two water buckets: one with plain water and one with electrolytes added.” Horses will voluntarily drink the electrolyte water when they are exercising heavily enough to need it.


Once your horse is accustomed to the taste of electrolyte-enhanced water at home, you can pack the product for road trips to evens where he might really need the extra boost.