This summer is gearing up to be a hot and humid one up here
on the North Coast, and with that comes the potential for
both horses and riders to become dehydrated.
During the summer, horses in training, competing at shows,
or being in the trailer for long distances can be at risk
prone to dehydration. Dehydration results from the excessive
loss of fluids and can lead to problems including elevated
body temperature, muscle problems, colic, and even death.
Aside from the loss of body fluid or water in sweat, there
are essential electrolytes that are lost. Electrolytes are
important for normal body function.
Electrolytes are mineral salts that become ionized (charged)
in solution, and include sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium,
and magnesium. They are required for the proper functioning
of the body, notably in muscle contraction, blood fluid balance,
and nerve impulse transmission. Sweating causes a loss of
these salts, as they are water-soluble, and are dissolved
in the body's fluids. You can actually see these salts - after
your horse sweats and dries, you'll see a whitish haze on
their coat, and it may feel a little gritty. These areas indicate
loss of electrolytes, and much of what you see is dried mineral
salt (mainly sodium chloride).
Since your horse is sweating and losing mineral salts, you
may want to increase his intake with an electrolyte supplement.
Horses should always have salt available to them and will
"self-supplement" to meet their requirements. A complete mineral
salt block is recommended. If your horse is in training, competing
or has other stressors, adding electrolytes into the drinking
water or top-dressing feed is another method of supplementation.
If mixing with drinking water, please be sure to provide a
source of "regular" water. Even if they do drink, some will
not consume enough of the water to get adequate amounts of
electrolytes into the body in an acceptable time frame. If
this is the case, an oral syringe of electrolyte paste can
Electrolytes can also be mixed into the grain ration. If
the animal eats their entire meal, this works perfectly. But
some picky eaters tend to notice any change in their grain
and will refuse to eat any of the meal! To avoid some of these
feeding problems, many electrolytes have added flavors, such
as apple or orange, to increase palatability. The flavors
can improve consumption rate for many horses. If time is of
the essence, or if the previous feeding methods are not acceptable
to your horse, giving your horse a paste electrolyte allows
you to know exactly how much was given, and more
importantly, you know your horse ingested it (or it's all
over your shirt....). Oral electrolyte paste is effective
for horses that are severely stressed, and which need to more
quickly re-establish electrolyte balance in the body.
How do you know if you should supplement electrolytes?
In situations where horses lose a lot of fluid, such as
in severe diarrhea cases and during intense exercise for long
durations, or intense heat and humidity, horses will likely
need to be supplemented. Stressful situations, such as transporting
in significant heat or over long distances may also indicate
the need to supplement. Traveling to and from shows, and performing
at shows may increase sweating and fluid loss in horses, and
their need for electrolyte supplementation. Horses that are
in consistent, intensive training during the hot summer months
may need electrolytes, too. Keep an eye on the hydration level
of your horse by taking the thumb and forefinger of one hand
and carefully "pinching" a loose area of skin on the horse's
neck. If the skin retracts instantly, the horse typically
is properly hydrated. If the skin remains "tented," this is
an indicator that the horse is becoming or is already dehydrated.
Note, however, that some horses may develop gastric irritation
or even ulcers from electrolyte supplementation for extended
periods of time, so ultimately you and your vet must decide
what is best for your horse.
The bottom line is to know your horse and carefully evaluate
the situation. Like humans, individual horses respond differently
to stress, exercise, and hot weather. There is no "one size
fits all" solution to the question of whether to administer
A few electrolytes we recommend are: Finish
Line Apple-A-Day (Sugar-Free) Stress-Dex Vita-Flex Acculytes
Tips for Riders: It's just as easy for you to become dehydrated!
Drink plenty of water daily and don't wait until you are
thirsty. Thirst is not a sign that you are becoming dehydrated!
Drinking water through out the day keeps your body hydrated.
I've even added a bit of my horse's "Apple-A-Day" electrolyte
to my water bottle on a hot day after a lesson! If water is
not your favorite thing to drink, flavored waters or electrolyte
sports drinks are other options.
Other ways to get more water into your body: Keep freshly
cut cubes of watermelon or frozen grapes to snack on, and
don't forget about popsicles!
And, avoid diuretics like caffeine and alcohol, which rob
you of needed fluids!
Try contacting your local Extension Office for more information
about equine health in your area!
About the Author
Saddlery was established in 1986, to serve the needs of
the English Equestrian in Northern Ohio's Chagrin Valley. Our
customers tell us it is easy to shop in a store where they can
depend on friendly, courteous service from a knowledgeable sales
staff. We are dedicated to providing our customers with the
finest selection of saddlery, apparel, and accessories available
to fit their discipline, experience, and budget.