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Horse Care: How to Use Electrolytes
Horses have a much higher muscle mass than humans, which means their bodies generate more heat in less time. Horse muscles make up about 40% of a horse’s body weight, compared to only 20% for the average human. The more muscles contract, the more heat is produced for the body to deal with. And because horses have less skin surface area for their size than humans, they have more difficulty dissipating body heat.
In horses, the greatest risk of heat dehydration actually comes from prolonged periods of low activity or exercise. Because this practice seems so subtle, neither the horses nor their owners notice the gradual but progressive dehydration. To combat the heat, cold water is important, but since the water is purified, water alone will also purify the body’s low electrolyte supply, and it will be excreted as urine because the kidneys identify the water that has been added as an overload. To combat this, the proper use of electrolytes is necessary to maintain the horse’s health during heat and physical stress.
Choose the right electrolyte
In scientific terms, electrolytes are ionized components of living organisms. On a daily basis, electrolytes are what keep our bodies healthy and functioning properly. When we (or our horses) use energy, our body uses electrolytes, and electrolytes are used up quickly when the body is too hot to sweat. Electrolyte supplements replace those lost in digestion to keep our bodies functioning properly until an adequate amount of nutritious food and water can be administered.
When purchasing a supplement, it’s important to choose one that measures the amount of sweat your horse produces. Find a product with a 1:2:4 ratio of potassium:sodium:chloride. This means that every gram of potassium should contain two grams of sodium and four grams of chloride. Also, try to avoid fillers as they reduce the effectiveness of the electrolyte and products without them are more specific.
It is also important to choose a supplement that tastes good. Horses can be picky eaters, and, like children, they don’t want to drink bad medicine.
Identify the Signs of Dehydration
Horses whose internal body temperature has increased significantly through short, intense or long, moderate exercise should be cooled with water and rehydrated with electrolytes. Although the electrolyte formula should not be used daily, their use is not compatible after hard work, competition, or in conjunction with long walks.
An easy way to test for dehydration in your horse is to palpate the horse’s skin. If the skin retracts easily, the horse is well hydrated. But if the skin slowly returns to its place, the horse needs special attention.
Electrolyte supplements come in all shapes and sizes. You can buy many options in pills, powders, or prepackaged syringes. The type you choose depends on how your horse eats or drinks easily in hot, stressful conditions.
Knowing when to administer electrolytes is important to your horse’s health and performance. If you are expecting very heavy or demanding activities, such as competition or horse transport, you can start feeding electrolytes to your horse one to two days before, during the activity itself, and up to two days afterwards. For less strenuous work, administer the dose to your horse an hour or two before the work begins, and after the work is finished.
In general, horses need anywhere from 30 to 90 grams of electrolytes per hour of heavy work, depending on their weight and the outside temperature.
• Pellets – Pellet electrolytes are mixed directly into your horse’s feed supply during regular feeding. These work best if your horse is not picky, and you pre-feed him electrolytes before a big event, ride, or hard day’s work.
• Flour – Powders are more versatile and versatile than pellets. Powders can be mixed with food in the same way as pellets, mixed with something like apple sauce or yogurt, or mixed with water, to make a sports drink.
• Syringes – Prepackaged syringes are more expensive than pellets or powders, but they are very useful, especially for reluctant horses. All you have to do is scrape the contents of the syringe into your horse’s mouth. You can make your own electrolyte syringe by mixing two to three ounces of the powder with a paste such as applesauce or yogurt and filling a clean syringe with a good-tasting solution.
It is important to never force feed your horse. If your horse hesitates, focus on cooling down and taking him to a comfortable place before trying again.
Tip: Lick the Salt
To get regular, daily electrolytes, make sure your horse has regular access to salt to keep blood hydration levels up. Low blood sodium levels lead to dehydration, but the problem often resolves itself if you simply put salt in your horse’s stall.
While electrolytes are important for optimal performance, too many can be toxic. In fact, only providing your horse with water mixed with electrolytes will further the dehydration. Your horse should always have access to drinking water, and if possible, try to mix your horse’s electrolytes into his feed or administer it as a syringe, keeping his drinking water separate. While mild dehydration can be managed and prevented by the horse owner, moderate to severe dehydration requires veterinary attention and intravenous fluids.
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