Electrolytes and Performance Horses: Is a Salt Block Enough?By Kentucky Equine Research Staff · June 25, 2017
The professionals at Kentucky Equine Research (KER) answer questions frequently about how best to nourish equine athletes, from low-level performance horses to Olympic hopefuls. The importance of daily electrolyte supplementation for high-performance horses is well known, as regular sweating leads to electrolyte loss, and without appropriate replacement, performance suffers. But what about other performance horses, those engaged in light or moderate exercise?
Would free-choice access to a white or mineralized salt block negate the need for a daily electrolyte supplementation?
Maybe, maybe not.
“Without question, horses that sweat daily can benefit from a well-formulated electrolyte, one that is comprised primarily of minerals and very little sugar, such as Restore SR or Restore Paste,” said Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., an equine nutritionist with KER. “Electrolyte supplementation would be appropriate across seasons for these horses, not just in the summer, so long as they’re sweating routinely.”
On the other end of the spectrum, for horses that are ridden infrequently and rarely sweat, daily electrolyte supplementation is probably not necessary, provided salt is available. “The combination of forage and salt provides idle horses with all of the electrolytes required for normal body functions. Forages are typically high in potassium, and a salt block will provide the necessary sodium and chloride. Those three minerals—sodium, chloride, and potassium—are considered the most essential electrolytes,” said Crandell.
Idle horses that are exposed to extreme heat and humidity will sometimes sweat excessively, especially when pastured horses are not afforded shade. For these horses, electrolyte supplementation would be appropriate on days when they sweat heavily.
For some owners, recommendations become muddied as exercise schedules include days of little to no sweating intermixed with days of heavy sweating. “A daily electrolyte is probably the best solution for these horses, because all day-to-day worries about appropriate supplementation are relieved. Well-formulated electrolyte supplements are, of course, meant to be used daily, so there’s absolutely no harm in this,” explained Crandell. “For those riders that want to save a little money, it is also acceptable to offer electrolytes on days when sweating is more pronounced, but this daily decision-making is more labor-intensive, especially in boarding situations.”
All horses should have access to salt, regardless of age or workload. To best nourish performance horses, especially those that sweat often, a scientifically formulated electrolyte ought to be fed daily.