Any horse owner worth their salt knows that as the weather warms horses need more water, but is that enough? It is also essential to consider electrolytes.
A few facts regarding electrolytes and water:
- Horses lose water and with it electrolytes even when they are at rest
- A horse can easily lose 5 to 15 litres of sweat per hour of moderate work with up to 50g of electrolytes
- During travel horses can lose water at a rate of between 2-3kg/ hour of transport.
- A horse’s body cannot rehydrate itself after exercise if there is a shortage of electrolytes.
- Although a horse will generally drink 25 litres of water per day, in warm weather that can increase up to 75 litres.
What is classified as electrolytes?
Electrolytes are sodium, chloride, potassium and calcium as the most important minerals and should be fed in this order of quantity.
So although owners will often provide salt licks or table salt in their horses feed, it is not a complete electrolyte. Normal salt doesn’t supplement potassium and calcium.
It is also important to understand that a horse needs to adjust to supplement electrolytes. Just feeding at a show or during a heat wave is not sufficient to maintain adequate levels. Working horses in particular should receive electrolytes in their feed daily.
So how do electrolytes impact performance?
Electrolytes are essential for normal muscle contraction and relaxation. When electrolytes become depleted or imbalanced, fatigue and muscle cramps can result. (Catherine Whitehouse, MS, a Nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research (KER))
There are 3 key considerations when feeding for recovery – rehydration, replenishment of muscle glycogen and muscle repair and recovery.
We need to replace both water and electrolytes. Sodium drives thirst so supplementing with sodium will encourage drinking.
Replenishment of muscle glycogen
Muscle glycogen is the energy available to the muscle for working. Electrolytes have been proven to enhance this replenishment action.
Repair and recovery of muscle tissue
With prolonged exercise there is always muscle damage. To combat this additional, vitamin E and C can be fed that reduces the effect of stress induced free radicals. Also feeding amino acids will increase the rate of repair as they are the building blocks of muscles.
It is so important when choosing an electrolyte to read the label carefully and choose one that will address all the issues that come with exercising and traveling of your horse. Make the Smart Choice
Kentucky Equine Research
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