Electrolytes for Winter
Kate Hore. RNutr(Animal), R.Anim.Technol (Cert). Head Nutritionist at NAF
As the weather turns colder and we head into winter, it is easy to think that feeding electrolytes to compensate for sweat losses is something we only need to consider through the warmer summer months – but is that true? Absolutely not – if horses are still being worked, then it is still important to consider their hydration status and compensate for sweat losses.
As relatively large animals, horses have a low surface area to body mass, meaning they potentially have a much greater ability to retain heat than to lose it. This warming effect could result in over-heated animals when worked. However, horses have evolved to avoid this problem by being incredibly good at heat loss through sweating, such that sweat losses account for the vast majority of heat dissipation in working horses. Sweat is readily evaporated from the skin surface, and, particularly if the air is dry, - for example, as you may get in an indoor school – it is easy for sweat losses to go unnoticed. Therefore, just because a horse is not obviously sweating in their work, does not mean sweat losses are not occurring.
As water is lost through sweat it is essential that we replace it. However not just the water but also the essential body salts, or electrolytes, that are naturally present in sweat.
Following exercise, ensure a broad-spectrum electrolyte is given to provide all essential body salts, i.e. sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium and chloride. Failure to replace these body salts can affect the thirst mechanism by failure to replace lost water, thus leaving the horse dehydrated. Ensure you always feed electrolytes with clean, fresh, water available alongside to encourage drinking, and ensure both water and salts are replaced.
It is important that we use appropriate methods of feeding electrolytes. A free access NAF Himalayan Salt Lick in the stable is ideal, to allow them to self-supplement for maintenance – though take care with flavoured licks, which are sometimes eaten like sweets! It is also worth noting that electrolytes fed in a very concentrated form of (i.e. a paste or concentrated drench) have been identified as a risk factor for gastric ulcers, hence we advise adding to feed or mixing with plenty of water.
For working horses choose NAF Liquid Electro for electrolytes which can be easily added to a bucket of water, or NAF Electro Salts for horses who prefer their electrolytes in a little well soaked feed.
Tips for Winter Work
- Extend warm up, with plenty of walk before trotting, to allow muscles to gradually warm up to working temperature.
- Horses dislike drinking cold water. Offer slightly warm water (15-20°C), if possible, to avoid dehydration.