During exercise and when out competing our horses can produce alot of sweat, it’s their natural method to help regulate their body temperature. But, sweating results in a loss of key fluids and trace minerals known as electrolytes. So, how do we know when to supplement our horses with electrolytes?
Electrolytes play a vital role in our horses, helping to maintain osmotic pressure, fluid balance, nerve and muscle activity. During exercise electrolytes are lost through sweat, the amount of sweat produced depends on duration and intensity of exercise, temperature and humidity.
A 500kg horse in a steady trot and canter can lose 5-7 litres of sweat and 50-70 grams of electrolytes per hour. If the temperature and humidity increased, they can lose up to 10-12 litres of sweat per hour.
What are the major electrolytes in your horse and what are their roles?
- Sodium and Chloride: Also known as salt, they are important for maintaining blood volume and are lost in the greatest amount in sweat. Sodium follows water which means that when sodium leaves the body in sweat, so does water.
- Potassium: Required by your horse for muscle contraction and relaxation.
- Calcium: Essential for normal muscle function.
- Magnesium: A vital component of body fluids.
How can electrolytes affect performance?
Excessive electrolyte loss causes a disruption in the balance of normal muscle contraction and relaxation. This can lead to fatigue and muscle weakness as well as exercise rhabdomyolysis (tying up) and muscle cramps. Synchronous diaphragmatic flutter (thumps) can occur due to excessive loss of calcium and magnesium causing the main nerve to the diaphragm to fire in sync with the heart.
When to supplement with electrolytes?
Some studies have associated an electrolyte deficiency with inadequate forage intake in performance horses. Hay can typically contain from 10 to 20 grams of potassium per kg, it is however low in sodium and chloride and therefore a free choice salt lick is recommended to be supplied.
Each horse and circumstance will be individual but some general guidelines to follow include;
- All horses should have access to a free choice salt lick or loose salt added to their feed.
- Commercial feeds will not contain enough sodium chloride for a working horse; however, they do typically have enough potassium, calcium and magnesium.
- Electrolyte supplementation should contain sodium and chloride as the main ingredient, avoid sugar-based electrolytes.
- Introduce to the diet slowly. Heavily sweated horses can be administered 1-2 hours before work begins and 60 -90 minutes after work
- Free choice of water as electrolytes stimulate thirst
To find out more on electrolyte supplementation contact a member of the Bluegrass Horse Feed nutritional team at firstname.lastname@example.org