Does Your Horse Need Electrolytes?

By. Casie Bazay

It’s summer, aka the sweatiest time of the year. Hooray!

And while sure, there are things to enjoy (like swimming, ice cubes, and air conditioning), outdoor activities such as barn chores and riding often leave us reaching for a Gatorade. But what about our horses? Do they need the equine equivalent of a sports drink full of electrolytes too?

First off, let’s discuss what electrolytes are exactly and a little bit about how they function in the body. Electrolytes are minerals that help to regulate many bodily processes. The main ones include Sodium (Na), Chloride (Cl), Potassium (K), Magnesium (Mg), and Calcium (Ca).

In solid form, electrolytes bond into salts (such as sodium chloride) but when dissolved in water, they break down into individual ions, which carry a positive or negative charge. These charges allow them to conduct electricity and assist in electrochemical processes such as regulating heartbeat and muscle contraction.

But wait, electrolytes do more! They also aid in moving fluids in and out of cells and help the body to absorb nutrients. Without electrolytes, the water your horse drinks cannot be properly retained or utilized by the body.

In short, electrolytes are super important.

Like us, horses lose electrolytes through sweat, urine, and feces. Most of these minerals are replaced when your horse consumes grass, hay, and/or feed, with the exception being sodium and chloride, which should always be supplemented with either a salt block or loose salt.

So let’s get back to the question at hand: do horses need added electrolytes in the summer?

The answer depends on how much they’re sweating. If your horse sweats for a prolonged period of time, either because of high temperatures and/or humidity, intense exercise, or all of the above, electrolyte losses can be high and therefore will need to be supplemented.

This goes for endurance horses and those competing in three-day eventing or possibly long-distance trail riding. Electrolyte supplementation is also a good idea if a horse is being shipped long distance in hot weather and for those with Cushing’s disease who may sweat more just standing in the pasture.

How to feed electrolytes

Electrolytes can generally be supplemented in feed, added to water, or in paste or gel form. After a period of prolonged sweating, it’s recommended that electrolytes be provided for several days to make up for losses. You can even give electrolytes to your horse before a big event if you know he’s likely to be sweating a great deal. Continue to give electrolytes during the event as well.

When looking for an electrolyte supplement, make sure that sodium chloride is first on the list of ingredients, followed by potassium chloride. Many electrolytes are sugar-based and while horses may prefer them, they aren’t as effective.

With that said, it’s not a good idea to over-supplement with electrolytes, especially if your horse isn’t sweating much as they may irritate the digestive tract or even throw your horse’s mineral balance out of whack.

Many horses won’t need electrolytes at all in summer, but if your horse does, remember to supplement wisely!