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!
When It’s Time
— Read on horsenetwork.com/2020/06/when-its-time/
Click on the link below to access a variety of forms
Pivoting During a Pandemic
— Read on horsenetwork.com/2020/04/pivoting-during-a-pandemic/
Passion For Horses Is Not A Learned Behavior – We Are Born With It! –
— Read on horses-world.com/2018/09/01/passion-for-horses-is-not-a-learned-behavior-we-are-born-with-it/
Learn equine biosecurity basics for the farm, horse show, and breeding shed to protect your horses from infectious diseases.
— Read on thehorse.com/features/practical-biosecurity-tips-to-protect-your-horse/
Spotting Lameness: The Game Plan
— Read on horsenetwork.com/2018/10/spotting-lameness-game-plan/
Ask TheHorse Archives – The Horse
— Read on thehorse.com/topics/podcasts/ask-thehorse/
What should you do (or not do) if your horse shows signs of colic? And how do you prevent colic in the first place? Find out from our veterinary experts.
— Read on thehorse.com/features/dealing-with-equine-colic/
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore have found that a heightened interest in horses and the compulsion to be around them at all times, is linked to the virus Ecus solidamentum.
“We’ve nicknamed the disease the ‘horse bug’,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Ivan Toride. “But all joking aside, it seems to be a serious affliction that has real repercussions for sufferers.”
The study reports that people infected with Ecus solidamentum lose all rational thought processes when exposed to equines. Sufferers will ignore physical injuries, strained personal relationships and financial troubles just to spend more time with horses. Dr. Toride admits it’s a startling discovery to find a physical cause behind what was once thought to be only a mental affliction.
People generally become infected through mosquito bites, which is why those who already spend time in barns and outdoors with horses seem to be more susceptible. Interestingly, the researchers found infection rates are higher among middle-age women and that they are the most symptomatic when infected. Teenage girls also have a high susceptibility to the virus, but the disease seems to resolve itself in many by the time the girls reach their 20s.
“It’s a multi-faceted disease that will require much more investigation,” says Dr. Toride. “We still don’t understand the exact viral mechanism that affects the brain’s functioning, or why women in particular seem to be more susceptible.”
Anita Notherpony, who was infected with Ecus solidamentum last year, participated in Dr. Toride’s study. In the last 12 months, her behaviour around horses has become more erratic as the virus has spread through her body. “I lost my job because I couldn’t stay away from the barn. When I did go to work, all I did was read articles about horses or look at horses for sale,” she says.
“It started slowly, I thought it was just a new interest at first. But when I spent my entire pay check at the tack store, I began to suspect there was something deeper was at play.”
When Notherpony read about Dr. Toride’s research in an article in a horse magazine, a lightbulb went off. “I just said, ‘this is me.’”
Notherpony immediately contacted the research team for help. “Dr. Toride diagnosed me. At least I now have an explanation for what is happening. I know this disease is ruining my life, but it’s a compulsion I can’t control. I just hope they find a cure.”
Recently, Notherpony secretly sold her husband’s car for a third horse. At the time of this writing, it was unclear if her husband would be able to continue his employment without a way to get to work, leaving them both in a precarious financial situation.
Betraying the seriousness of her disease, a rapidly deteriorating Notherpony didn’t seem to be able to grasp the severity of the situation during an interview with Horse Network. “He’ll just have to find some other way to get to work. I need to buy another saddle next week,” she said.
It’s situations like these that are pushing Dr. Toride and his team to work overtime to find a cure for Ecus solidamentum. “It’s frightening to see how this disease can affect a mind. We can only hope we stumble across a cure soon,” he says.