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Electrolyte Supplementation for Working HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · April 18, 2016

As the weather warms in many regions of the world, conscientious riders begin thinking about electrolyte supplementation for their horses. Exactly when to start supplementation depends on many factors, some of which are subjective.

“Horses should have free-choice access to salt year-round. For horses that are not working hard and not sweating on a daily basis, loose or block salt can supply sufficient electrolytes, particularly sodium and chloride, as long as they consume enough of it. This is especially true for horses on all-forage diets, as forage is a good source of potassium, another important electrolyte,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

Horses have a good sense of how much salt they need and will consume it as needed. If horses are avoiding a salt block, it is a good idea to check that it has not been contaminated with off flavors from the environment. This sometimes happens when salt blocks are placed directly on the ground in or near mucky areas. Many feed stores sell containers made specifically for salt blocks, and these usually feature predrilled holes in the floor to allow rainwater to escape. By placing these containers on a firm surface, such as a concrete or gravel pad, the salt block will remain off the ground and palatable.

Access to loose or block salt may not, however, replace electrolyte deficits caused by heavy sweating. “A horse in consistent, strenuous work that sweats could benefit from daily electrolyte supplementation,” Crandell advised.

Sweat contains primarily sodium, chloride, and potassium. Commercial electrolytes will include potassium, in addition to sodium and chloride, to provide a more complete complement of minerals than plain salt. Using a product from a reputable company is one way to make sure horses consume the right balance of electrolytes, advised Crandell.

“Commercial electrolytes usually have a flavoring that masks the bitterness of the potassium chloride and makes them more appealing,” said Crandell. “Electrolyte content varies in commercial products, so be sure the ingredient listing has salt (sodium chloride) as the first ingredient, potassium chloride as the second, and not sugar, dextrose, or any other type of sweetener. Supplementation of electrolytes is not intended to replace all the electrolytes lost from sweating, just a proportion, but unfortunately there are commercial products on the market that contain woefully few electrolytes and barely contribute to replacement.”

Well-formulated electrolyte products such as Restore SR and Restore Paste deliver key electrolytes to horses. Electrolyte technology has advanced over the last several years. Restore SR contains a proprietary slow-release mechanism that allows sodium to be released gradually into the gastrointestinal tract for sustained absorption. When sodium is delivered slowly over a period of time, more is retained and utilized by the body. Look for RESTORE, Endura-Max, and Endura-Max Plus in Australia.

In addition to strenuous exercise, electrolyte supplementation is warranted for transport. “It might be best to think proactively about electrolyte needs before a long trip. Many horsemen preload horses with electrolytes the evening before any trailer ride longer than an hour or two to help prevent the dehydration that can occur from shipping,” remarked Crandell. “The electrolytes will encourage the horse to drink well before shipping, staving off dehydration.”