What are Electrolytes and When Does My Horse Need Them?

August 22, 2022

Keeping your horse hydrated in the summertime can be challenging, especially if you’re traveling to competitions or out in the hot sun all day. When horses sweat, they lose essential electrolytes like sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. A deficit of these electrolytes can compromise your horse’s health and performance.

Brown Horse Outside Blue Sky

Almost all your horse’s bodily functions rely on electrolytes, which affect the heart and brain, muscle contraction, nerve function, the digestive system, and more. So, when exercise, heat, humidity, and stress deplete vital minerals and electrolytes, your horse needs help replacing them.

Hydration Basics

An adult horse requires about 8 to 12 gallons of water per day — just for maintenance. Individual water intake will vary. For example, because grass has high water content, a horse on pasture typically consumes less water than a horse that eats more hay.

Make sure your horse has constant access to clean, fresh water, whether he lives mainly in a stall or is turned out. And even when you’re supplementing with electrolytes, your horse should have the option of free-choice salt, either loose or block salt. Salt is made of sodium and chloride, which are lost through sweat, but imperative for cells, muscles, and nerves to function properly. Sodium also helps maintain the balance of fluids in the body.

If you’re concerned, two quick tests can determine whether your horse is dehydrated:

Capillary Refill: To check capillary refill time (CRT), press and hold your finger firmly on your horse’s gum above the teeth. Release, and time how long it takes for color to return. “Normal” capillary refill time is 1.5 to 2 seconds or less. If it takes longer for color to return, your horse may be dehydrated.

The Pinch Test: Pinch the skin over your horse’s shoulder and then release. If the skin stays “tented” or takes seconds to recede, your horse may be dehydrated. In a hydrated horse, the skin flattens in less than a second.

When are electrolytes needed?

Girl and Horse Blue Bucket and Fence

Electrolytes aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Choose a supplement based on how much your horse sweats. Factors like workload, temperament, and activity level should be considered when determining which electrolyte supplement would be best. A horse in intense exercise may literally be dripping with sweat, while a horse on an easy trail ride might only be lightly sweating on the neck or under his saddle. A nervous, high-energy horse may also sweat more than a seasoned, quiet horse.

Don’t forget to factor in the weather. During hot, humid conditions, a horse can be drenched in sweat even if he’s just on pasture doing nothing more strenuous than grazing and walking. He’s not exercising, but he’s still losing electrolytes by sweating.

Adequate hydration is vital year-round, so many horse owners use supplements during winter —even when horses aren’t sweating as much. A horse’s basic fluid requirement doesn’t change and adding electrolytes to his winter feed routine will encourage him to drink more water and stay hydrated.

No matter what electrolyte supplement you choose, always follow label directions and feed according to how much your horse is sweating. This way, you can “customize” to match the individual horse and situation.

Electrolyte options: Pellets vs. Paste

Man feeding horse electrolytes

You can buy electrolyte supplements in a variety of forms. Pellets can easily be added to the feed ration, while paste comes in a large syringe designed to put directly into the horse’s mouth. Any form of electrolytes can be used proactively and given up to 12 hours before exercise or travel. But remember, all electrolytes stimulate the horse’s desire to drink, so make sure he has access to water.

Why would I choose pellets?

If you’ve ever added powdered electrolytes to a picky horse’s feed, you know a talented equine can sort through, leaving much of the powder at the bottom of the tub. For the horse who turns up his nose at powdered electrolytes or sorts through them, pellets can be an easy solution. Farnam Apple Elite Electrolyte Pellets have a balanced electrolyte profile with sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium — in a palatable pellet form, making it easy to mix the right amount into your horse’s feed ration.

Apple Elite Electrolyte Pellets 7.5lb

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Why would I choose a paste?

Imagine you’re at a competition or on an all-day trail riding adventure with friends. Your horse is sweating, and even though you’ve watered him throughout the day, you know it’s important to replace lost electrolytes. The electrolyte paste syringe is handy because you can slip it into a pocket for on-the-go use.

Apple Elite Electrolyte Paste delivers crucial electrolytes in an easy-to-use, concentrated form. The 60cc syringe contains an immediate serving for the average adult horse. You can adjust the amount given according to how much your horse is sweating and his level of exercise intensity. The paste can be given every four to six hours as needed.

Tip: Give paste electrolytes in small amounts of 20cc at a time. Your horse is more likely to swallow it than drop some of the paste from his mouth.

Farnam, Apple Elite Electrolyte Paste

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Before, During, and After a Workout

Give your horse electrolytes before, during, and after intense exercise for best results. Don’t wait until the day of a show or long ride; instead, begin electrolyte supplementation during training as you build-up to the big day. Following an event or any occasion where your horse has sweated and exerted himself continue with supplements for a few extra days to replace all those lost electrolytes. And for workhorses, especially during stretches of hot, humid weather, it’s a good idea to maintain them on an electrolyte supplement.

Take Plenty of Water Breaks

Be proactive about keeping your horse hydrated no matter where you are—at a show, an event, or on a trail ride. Allow for frequent water breaks throughout the day, especially if you’ll be riding for a long time. And if your horse becomes overheated, cool him down before allowing unlimited access to water. It’s easier (and safer) to keep a horse hydrated than to re-hydrate a dehydrated horse. Electrolytes are crucial in maintaining your horse’s overall health and shouldn’t be overlooked. Farnam Apple Elite Electrolyte Pellets and Apple Elite Electrolyte Paste are formulated for horses of all ages and classes — trail, performance, working, and senior horses.

Want to learn more about the electrolyte options we carry? Browse our website or stop into your local Wilco Farm Store for more options.

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