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!
Equine First Aid Kit
All horse owners should have an equine first aid kit & know how to use all of the supplies. At least twice yearly, examine & replenish outdated supplies. Store your first aid kit in your home or temperature controlled space. Leaving it in a trailer or uninsulated tack room will quickly degrade the supplies. Talk to your veterinarian about customizing your first-aid kit for your horse’s particular needs.
Thermometer, Mercury or Digital
Stethoscope (good quality)
Headlight (good quality)
Proper Fitting Halter & Lead Rope
Latex Gloves (12)
Watch or Timepiece with Second Hand
Tweezers or Forceps (smooth jaws)
Non-Sterile Gauze – 4″x4″ Squares (1 package)
Conform® or Kling® Gauze 4″ (2 rolls)
Elastic Adhesive Bandage (Elasticon®) 3″ (2 rolls)
Cohesive Bandage (Vetrap®) 4″ (2 rolls)
Non-Adhesive Wound Dressing (Telfa® pads) 3″x4″ (2) & 3″x8″ (2)
Povidone Iodine (Betadine®) Solution (4 oz)
Antiseptic Scrub, Chlorhexidine or Povidone Iodine (Betadine®) Scrub (4 oz)
Small Plastic Containers for Mixing or Storage (2)
Wound Lavage or Cleaning Bottle, Saline (250 ml)
Tongue Depressors (6)
Alcohol Wipes (10)
Spray Bottle for Water (1)
Paper Towels (1 roll)
Multi-Purpose Tool, Leatherman® or Equivalent
Cotton Lead Rope (3/4″ – 1″ in diameter)
Electrolytes (paste or powder)
Fly Repellent Ointment (1)
Heavy Plastic Bags (2 – gallon & 2 – pint size)
Cotton, Rolled Sheets, Leg Cottons (2)
Standing Wrap & Quilt or Shipping Boots
Easy Boot or Equivalent in Appropriate Size
Baby Diapers (2) (size 4 to 6 depending on hoof size)
Triple Antibiotic Ointment (1 tube)
Extra Halter & Lead Rope
Syringe 35 cc (1)
Syringe 12cc (3)
Syringe 3 cc (3)
Syringe 3cc with 20gauge needle (3)
Syringe – 60 cc cath tip (2)
Needles – 18gauge – x 1.5″ (4)
Needles – 20 gauge – x1.5″ (4)
Eye Wash, Saline (1 bottle)
Opthalmic Ointment or Drops (1 bottle or tube)
Magnesium Sulfate, Epsom Salts (1 package)
Duct Tape (1 roll)
Clippers with #40 Blade (good quality)
Crease Nail Puller
Hoof File, Rasp
Farrier’s Driving Hammer
Collapsible Water Bucket
Bute Banamine Bordered
Talk to your veterinarian about dispensing a few medicines that you may use in an emergency. In most, if not all states, a veterinarian cannot legally dispense prescription items without a valid Veterinary Client Patient Relationship (VCPR).
• Flunixin Meglumine (Banamine®) (injectable or paste)
• Phenylbutazone, Bute Paste (1)
• Trimethoprim-Sulfa Tablets SMZ-TMP in small container (75#)
I decided to get on Tilly and see how she was under saddle.
The saddle fit nicely and I chose a bit-less bridle. Tilly was calm throughout tacking her up and getting on her back. One hiccup….she would not respond to my leg or move forward at all. My friend decided to lead her and Tilly walked easily forward. I decided to end with that for the day. A few days later I got on her back again. Same thing happened- she would just stand there. Small spurs, leg, a crop (which I hit gently against my leg)…none of them worked. I was frustrated despite it not being my sweet girl’s fault so I ended our ride. I knew nothing could be accomplished with me being frustrated. I decided to do some research on work horses and posted on some Facebook forums about my situation. I received some awesome advice!
The advice I received is below.
“If she was used in harness you will probably have to use driving commands as you teach her.Walk on, or get up to go forward. Gee to turn right, Ha to turn left. May have to tap her hind quarter with the crop.”
The horse that won’t move forward
Remember those stubborn ponies of your past whose fat bellies deflected your thumping heels like a bug guard on the front of a pickup truck? I can recall more than one incident when “Misty,” “Sweetpea,” or “Katrina” just decided they would do no more (and really, looking back, who could blame them?) Most of us are a long way from ponies now and a child’s willingness to spend an hour or two negotiating three steps forward. But still, if you ride at all, you’re likely to face a balk or two in your time in the saddle, and having the techniques to negotiate the issue quickly and peacefully is key.
Note: Many horses balk when approaching something strange or “scary.” This is a different issue and can be successfully dealt with in a layered, progressive fashion using desensitization. According to lifelong rancher, horse trainer, and author Heather Smith Thomas, horses…
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