The Importance of Salt in a Horse’s Diet
By: Jessica Drexler, PAS
Salt, a combination of sodium and chloride, is essential to equine health. These key minerals, along with many other vitamins and minerals, need to be provided at sufficient levels in the diet each day. Let’s take a look at what salt does for the equine body, how to provide enough of it to your horse and discuss a supplement popular in the equine world—electrolytes.
What Does Salt Do in the Equine Body?
Sodium helps tissues and organs, like the large intestine, retain water. Water in the gut is essential for proper fermentation and movement of feedstuffs through the digestive tract. Sodium works with the brain to trigger “thirst” in the horse when more hydration is needed. It is also helps move glucose across the cell membrane where it is used as a fuel source. If sodium levels are insufficient, a horse can show signs of early fatigue, muscle weaknesses and impaired performance.
Chloride is essential to the digestive system and produces hydrochloric acid in the stomach. It controls the excitability of nervous tissues and muscle. Like sodium, chloride also works with the body’s acid-base balance (pH level), which is important in keeping the fluids in the body at a neutral pH so the body functions normally.
The Average Salt Requirement For Horses is 1-2 Tablespoons Per Day
How can you ensure your horse is receiving enough salt? Many feed companies provide a guaranteed level of sodium and chloride for their products. Take a moment to see how much your horse is getting each day based on the amount of product you feed. All Triple Crown feeds provide guarantees of salt, as well as the breakdowns of sodium and chloride. You also need to add in levels from hay (a hay analysis can provide this information for you) or use an estimate for the hay type(s) you use if you are not able to test your hay.
A mature 1,100 lb. horse at maintenance (little-to-no work) needs 11 grams of sodium and 44 grams of chloride each day. The level needed varies not only with different life stages of horses, but with factors such as environment and workload. As another example, a 1,100 lb. horse in heavy work needs about 28 grams of sodium and 73 grams of chloride each day. This can double or triple if the horse is in heavy work and working in hot, humid conditions.
Provide Your Horse with Salt Options
Provide free choice loose salt
First, introduce and slowly increase salt so the horse’s body can adjust to the new intake. Once adjusted, it can be provided free choice. A plain white salt block can be offered, but some horses may not use the block and it can be hard to determine how much salt is being ingested.
Top dress The Meal With Table Salt
An easy way to ensure your horse is consuming enough salt is by simply top dressing the daily feed with table salt. An owner can work up to adding 1 to 2 tablespoons per day.
Bring in the Electrolytes
Most horses do not need an additional electrolyte supplement and can have their needs met by ensuring they get enough salt each day. However, horses working heavily for extensive periods of time in hot conditions or horses living in hot and humid conditions may need electrolytes, a combination of sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and calcium to help to replenish essential nutrients lost when the horse is sweating. Seek a quality product that works for your horse, there are pastes or electrolytes you can add to an additional water bucket. Be aware that not all electrolytes are salt-based and some actually contain glucose (sugar) as a main ingredient, which can reduce the electrolyte content of the product. By providing a quality electrolyte for your hardworking performance horse, you can replace critical nutrients that help with muscle function and recovery and help improve heat tolerance that comes with exercise, as well as physical temperatures.
Salt and Water are Critical to Equine Health
Salt promotes horses to drink more, and horses need to drink enough water for proper gut health and digestion, to replenish sweat, to help body functions and to live. When horses do not consume enough water they are predisposed to colic, dehydration and performance issues. Be sure that your horse has access to plenty of clean, fresh water at all times. In addition, in colder climates make sure the water is at a warm temperature, horses do not like to consume very cold water in the winter leading to consumption and health concerns.
Triple Crown Feeds Go a Step Above
Triple Crown feeds provide additional nutrient guarantees so you can be better informed of what your horse is getting from their feed. In addition, the new Triple Crown Gold line, hitting the market soon, features increased electrolyte balance. This super premium feed line will help ensure your performance horse is getting more nutrients to support optimal health and performance. To learn more about Triple Crown products, contact us.